As a young engineer, I was sometimes nervous when presenting to upper management. The night before a presentation, I could not sleep. While driving to work the following morning brown liquid started flowing down my windshield. It took me a few seconds to realize that I had inadvertently left my coffee mug on the car roof. As the windshield wipers smeared the brown liquid, I knew I would have to get my brain together. Before the meeting, I decided to focus on eliminating any physical signs of nervousness and maintaining my composure.
As someone who conducts keynote speeches, workshops and seminars on communication strategies for engineers and other technical people, I am always on the lookout for distracting mannerisms. These can diminish the quality of a presentation, or give an indication of nervousness or lack of preparation.
TIPS FOR DEALING WITH NERVOUS GESTURES
- Don’t lean on the lectern or table.
- Avoid holding your hands in front of your crotch or behind your back or putting them in your pockets.
- Most novice speakers have difficulty determining what to do with their hands, so work to automatically keep your hands at your sides, raising them only to provide natural gestures that will illuminate a point.
- Don’t hold a pen or other object that does not provide value to the presentation, or notes that are not used or needed.
- Keep your hands away from your hair (as a bald man, I don’t have this problem).
- Avoid leaning back on your heels and raising the front of your shoes into the air. Sometimes people even seem to be keeping an imaginary beat.
- Lose “mechanical” hand gestures and aim for natural ones by practicing. Audiences notice over-practiced gestures, as they take place slightly ahead of the wording they are intended for.
- Be aware and don’t unconsciously fiddle with cufflinks or rings.
- Don’t pace back and forth without a purposeful reason. Needless pacing does not complement your presentation.
- Be aware of the tendency to gesture with your dominant hand.
IMPROVE YOUR GESTURES
- When you are scheduled to deliver a presentation, ask people to give you feedback and suggestions for improvement. Let them know what you are looking for.
- Practice, practice, practice and get feedback from people who have expertise. Most people do not know their gestures need improvement. Get rid of the bad ones and build good ones that will illuminate your points and enhance your presentation.