What do I do with my hands?

When people are forced to give a presentation without PowerPoint, their arms, hands, and gestures come alive. For example: the one hand outlines the machine part, both hands come together to explain how the pieces fit together. It’s interesting and dynamic to watch.

Add back PowerPoint, the hands stop moving. With the slides up, a person stops imagining and stops using the tools he or she has “at hand”.

 When you call to mind an experience, you tend to use more dynamic gestures. Gestures can help you get your message across, and your audience experiences, and remembers, your presentation.

I invite you to try this exercise with me. Let’s imagine a lemon. This will work best if you draw in all your senses to the experience. It might work best to read through this once, and then try the exercise.

Hold out your hand, palm up.

Imagine a lemon sitting in the palm of your hand.

What do you notice about it? How big is it?

See the little dimples on it, or perhaps your lemon is smooth.

How heavy does your lemon feel?

Bring the lemon close to your ear, and scratch your fingernail across the skin of the lemon, what do you hear?

Move your hand in front of your face, but don’t drop the lemon.

Bring the lemon to your nose. Smell the scratch marks. Notice what happens in your face. Did the sourness of the lemon make your nose scrunch? Did your mouth water?

Imagine someone sitting across from you. Show them the lemon, offer them the lemon, as if they have never seen a lemon before.

That lemon can help you learn better gestures.

This is an acting and imagination exercise. It is an effective practice for how you can think about how to use gestures in your presentation. Rather than saying, “I visited our plant in Wisconsin, try imagining the first few moments as you entered the plant. “As I toured the plant, I saw clean straight rows of machine stations, and I heard the rhythmic hum of machinery. It sounded like it was running at peak efficiency, but our numbers told a different story.” With an image like this, it’s likely you’ll be using your hands to help you describe the scene.

To encourage your imagination ask yourself the following questions:

  • What can I see?

  • What can I hear?

  • Can I reach out and touch something, what does it feel like?

  • What can I smell?

  • Can I taste anything?

When you use your memory and imagination to create an image in your head, your audience will likely see it too. This makes for a more compelling presentation, and naturally gives your arms and hands permission to help describe what you’re talking about.

Once you’ve rehearsed your presentation, calling to mind the images and practicing the gestures, then you can build your PowerPoint slides.

Imagine it, and gestures will follow.