Grand Gestures

By Heather Baldwin

Sales presentations are a lot like first dates – it’s hard to know what to do with your hands. We’ve all laughed at the caricatures of the nervous, coin-jiggling man or the woman who is constantly playing with her hair, but the truth is those images are well grounded in reality. “Many salespeople get to the presentation and become self-conscious about their hands. Their hands become cumbersome and awkward,” says Jean Hamilton, founder of Speaking Results, a Seattle, Washington-based company that coaches clients on communication and presentation skills ( To overcome that awkwardness, Hamilton recommends starting with these three tips.

1. Open up. Nervous presenters engage in what Hamilton calls self-bondage. They cross their arms, clasp their hands behind their backs, place them in front in the fig leaf position or otherwise hold onto themselves in some way. Next time, she suggests, open up by allowing your arms to rest at your sides when you’re not using them to punctuate your message. It will feel awkward at first, but it will make you look more confident. The position also will make you feel vulnerable because you’re removing the wall your arms had made that separated you from the audience. This is good news, explains Hamilton. “The audience is more likely to trust you if you allow yourself to be vulnerable,” she says. To help feel comfortable with your arms at your sides, Hamilton suggests pretending there’s a book or a shoe tied to them, weighing them down.

2. Slow down. Nervous presenters use fast, jerky movements that communicate their nervousness to the audience. To communicate confidence, think about moving slowly and lingering over each gesture. The movements may feel exaggerated to you, says Hamilton, but the gestures will appear relaxed and controlled to the audience. Not sure if your gestures are on hyper-drive? Videotape yourself giving a presentation. It will be apparent immediately if you need to slow down your arm and hand movements.

3. Use space. Don’t be afraid to use large, wide gestures to communicate large ideas. When you’re saying something is enormous or huge, spread your arms wide and use the space around you to gesture that concept. If you’re talking about including the audience, use a large sweep of your arm to show inclusion. Not only will your words and gestures be in synch, says Hamilton, but you’ll be communicating to the audience that you’re comfortable presenting and therefore would be a good person with whom to do business.