You may not even realize you're doing it! Beware of 5 small actions that may be sabotaging your message--and your image.
Gestures can help you when you're speaking, or undermine you and your message.
I've seen lots of sales pitches and business speakers, and I've kept a log of the worst offenders. On a scale of 1 to 10, these small actions range from being distracting to potentially damaging a person's image in the minds of the audience:
1. Don't point to a slide or screen with your middle finger.
Damage Factor: 9
Damage Fact: People may take offense, even if you did it by mistake.
I once had a client, a Texan, who did this, and when I showed him the video, he said, "Oh my God! I'm flippin' the Chairman the bird." Use your whole hand when pointing, not a single finger. The first finger alone is accusative, the pinky is prissy, and the middle finger is downright hostile.
2. Don't clasp your hands behind your back.
Damage Factor: 4
Damage Fact: It may make you stumble over your words, making you seem unprepared.
We're Americans-we gesture when we speak. It helps us find the right words. When Professor William McNeil tied speakers' hands behind their backs, they took longer than usual to find the right words. In other experiments, he found that listeners didn't understand a speaker as well when the speaker didn't use his or her hands.
3. Don't hold your hands together in front of you.
Damage Factor: 7
Damage Fact: People may get the feeling that they don't trust you.
If you do it all the time you look like you're protecting yourself, or being a goodie-goodie. It ties up your energy and expressiveness. Dr. David DeSteno has demonstrated that holding your hands together you look less trustworthy, and, even more shocking, causes you to behave in a less trustworthy manner.
4. Don't touch your face, hair, or nose.
Damage Factor: 3
Damage Fact: At the least, it's distracting. At the worst, it's uncouth.
You rarely see high-level politicians or leaders touch these three danger zones in front of an audience. Since capturing and holding attention is such a challenge, every word and gesture must align with your message. Scratching an itch, fussing with your hair, or rubbing your nose should wait until you are "off stage."
5. Don't make squirrel paws.
Damage Factor: 5
Damage Fact: People may think you lack energy and won't get the job done.
When I was a very young child, my uncle took me to the Central Park Zoo to feed peanuts to squirrels. The squirrels were tame, and stood on their hind legs with their paws hanging in front of their chests. I see speakers with squirrel paws-limp hands, devoid of life-and I am not impressed. Squirrel-paw speakers don't look like they can get anything done. Pump energy and life into your hands to put energy and life into your message.