D=Distractions in D.e.l.i.v.e.r.y. Part 1 of 7 in my Speaking tips series

This article was the 1st of two “D’s” in D.E.L.I.V.E.R.Y, minimizing hand distractions, and the next will focus on movement and posture.

In my 35 years teaching public speaking, I developed 8-quickly applied tips using the acronym D.E.L.I.V.E.R.Y. to improve your public speaking skills. In this new series I will share excerpts from my longer training using D.E.L.I.V.E.R.Y. = eight presentation tips.

The first letter in D.E.L.I.V.E.R.Y is ‘D’ for Distractions. This means avoiding anything that is distracting which might deliver an unintended message, such as revealing nervousness or lack of confidence. There are many things that speakers do which make them look nervous, not confident, and not credible or impactful. These distractions include:

  1. Hands seems to be a big challenge as most speakers just don’t know what to do with them, so they start doing things that is not in their best interest. Let’s discuss ways to look confident, calm, and controlled.
  2. Don’t move hands too much, especially at first. Initially when someone starts speaking, most people begin moving their hands animatedly and too fast as they would in a one-on-one conversation; however, on a stage these movements do not appear confident or controlled.  I recommend speakers settle their hands at their sides, holding them still, at least at first. Another option is to clasp hands in a relaxed way in front. Don’t not move hands too soon in a presentation in order to give an impression of calm assurance. Add this with a strong posture and eye contact (covered next time), and the speaker will create an impression of confidence.  This sounds really easy, but in my experience, most speakers do not find this easy or comfortable at first and it takes practice.
  3. Hide speech fear symptoms. Shaking is a common symptom of speech fear. To hide shaking hands, never hold or pick up anything that is thin or moves which can reveal this symptom to people. Use the podium for support (discussed farther down). For a longer training on speech fear management, see my web page, SageForwardTraining.com.
  4. Don’t hold anything for long: a good rule is to never hold onto anything for long or it can become a distraction. This includes notes and clickers: One big mistake is how speakers misuse note cards in distracting ways. Speakers nearly always fiddle nervously with them and move around anything in their hands. Instead, create a page or two of notes you can settle on a podium or table so you do not hold them. I have other trainings on note cards. Powerpoint electronic clickers are also a problem, especially when speakers never put the clicker down. This often inspires constant ‘choir director’ gesturing at waist level throughout the presentation. I recommend speakers put down a clicker between long content so as to not hold onto it all the time.
  5. Don’t Touch Yourself! A common way speakers look nervous is when they touch themselves, such as clothes, face, hair, arms, glasses, jewelry, or anything else on the body. For people with long hair, here’s an added note: flipping hair or touching it can be distracting and silly looking, reducing credibility and confident appearance. It’s in a speaker’s best interest to pull hair back out of their face so that they can avoid touching it at all.  A humorous one is when speakers slap themselves, and it happens more often than you might think! Many people throw their gestures, dropping their hand down with force onto their own legs so firmly the landing makes a slapping sound. They do not realize how distracting or how humorous it can become to watch someone hit themselves during their speech. Control the hand pace following a wide gesture and settle hands back down quietly.
  6. Lift gestures to the “box” – where should the audience be looking? …..the speakers face is the focus; therefore, I recommend speakers lift their gestures near or around the face or at shoulder-level. I refer to this as “the box”, an analogy to a camera portrait-frame around a face. This is the range where I recommend speakers move, keeping people looking directly at the face. If speakers gesture lower, it can cause the audience view to “split”, or look away from the face unnecessarily.
  7. Gesture larger when speaking in front of a large audience. It looks good when speakers gesture larger, such as above their head so the larger audience can see the gesture from afar. Speakers who move larger in larger venues look more dynamic than a speaker in contrast with a speaker who appears small and engulfed by a large space.
  8. Don’t hold unnatural poses. There are a couple poses that end up looking silly. Speakers will appear un-relaxed if they are clasping their own hands in a death grip. The audience can see tight grips. Another is the “prayer or steeple” of the hands, which can appear condescending. The ‘choir director’ has the arms bent at a 90* angle the entire time and moving only horizontally in front of the speaker at waist level. This occurs most if the speaker is holding something (i.e., clicker). If the hands never reach the shoulder, the hands are making ‘choir-director’ motions and are also splitting the audience attention to look at hands and then back at the face. Placing hands on hips looks bossy and superior. All of these are avoidable. It can feel awkward to place hands down, holding still by sides when not in use, but often it looks the best.
  9. Use the podium. I believe the most authoritative position non-verbally in public speaking is to use the non-verbal authority of a podium (i.e., only experts are at the podium to speak) as a prop. When speakers deliver any credible content, such as their introduction, persuasive content, or any other authoritative information, settling their hands on the top sides with tall posture looks confident and extremely authoritative. You can use a podium to control shaking hands too. As an illusion of relaxation, speakers can set their hands on the podium top sides and apply a firm pressure without appearing to have a death-grip intensity. This can control shaking and look good to the audience.
  10. Control and intention. The overall message is gesture slower, purposefully and raise to shoulder level. Set hands to the sides when not in use or clasped loosely in front of you. Do not let hands move too fast, too much and you can look confident and interesting when you do move.

SUMMARY: Hands can be a source of distraction. If a speaker can settle their hand movement (either hanging loosely by their sides, clasped in front or on the podium), gesture slowly and calmly up towards the ‘box’ by their face, and not move too fast, then the speaker's hands will help the message vs. become distractions. Do not touch your own body or hold anything in the hands. The speaker can create an illusion of calm, credibility and authority by controlling what their hands are doing.


This article was the 1st of two “D’s” in D.E.L.I.V.E.R.Y, minimizing hand distractions, and the next will focus on movement and posture. I look forward to your feedback on how this helped you and how I might be of further help. You can also view SageForwardTraining.com for additional tips on speaking.


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