“Where do I put my hands” ranks with “How should I stand?” as the most F of the novice FAQ’s.
Here are the answers:
Q: “Where do I put my hands?” A: In your Content.
Q: “How should I stand?” A: So I can see you.
I’d love to just mic drop right here, but these questions are so F they deserve a full treatment.
Imagine your nervous body is a pioneer fort under siege. Siege commences.
Some people are scattering in panic — that’s like your hands fidgeting, and body pacing. Some are hiding (like sunken chest, backpedaling, hands in pockets). Some run to protect the back gate (hands clasping behind back) or cover the weak points (hands covering crotch, elbows tight against ribs). In this chaos, it feels like a blessing to get any instruction at all from an external authority at high command: “You there, form ranks, present arms, and hold THIS position!” (stiff poses and canned gestures)
“Oh, and act casual. YOUR LIVES DEPEND ON IT.”
And that’s probably the third most F of the FAQ’s: “How do I hide the fact that I – ”
Stop right there.
“But how can I come across as – ” Stop.
“But I want to seem more – ” No. Nup. Bup.
Our bodies naturally want to tell the truth. We can spend years learning tips and tricks to cover over an icky truth, spotting anywhere the truth pops out, and stomping on it. Don’t clasp hands, don’t put them in your pockets or behind your back, don’t point, don’t saw, don’t pump, don’t drum, don’t hairtwist, don’t touch your nose or ears. don’t dont dont. Plenty of people communicate brilliantly while breaking these rules, but teachers still create these giant no-no lists. This one even called the issue of hand gesture a “minefield”.
Jesus Christ, who wants to play in a minefield? No wonder we’re nervous.
Wouldn’t you rather play in a field where there was buried gold all over the place? So, let’s make one. And then we’ll invite the audience to play in it with us.
What’s the treasure you’re trying to share with your audience? It’s not something like “that I’m a great performer” or “that I’m worthy of admission to this fine drama school”. That way lies empty chests. No, the gold is going to be something specific to your content and that audience.
Maybe you’re singing Ave Maria, and the gold is a sense of comfort, or joy, or release, or remembrance, or reverence for motherhood. Maybe you’re giving a sermon, and the gold is a renewed commitment to a specific spiritual practice, or a social justice cause. Maybe you’re auditioning with Portia’s Quality of Mercy speech and the gold is the always-relevant reminder to Shylock that forgiveness is his highest possible choice. Maybe you’re giving a TED talk and the gold is an innovation in symbiotic fungi production that holds hope for food security in the 21st century.
You’ve got gold here, buddy. I don’t care if you’re nervous, share the damn gold.
Yes, absolutely there are some behaviors that are so distracting they will disrupt your ability to share. But you’ll do better focusing on positives. Don’t think of a giraffe in high heels. See? Your brain skipped right over the “don’t”, and now it’s deciding whether they’re spikes or wedges.
So instead look at the vast range of gestural possibility, and seek to enlarge it. Gestures are tools to help us reveal the gold, and we can always be shopping for cool tools.
Consider the Laban movement lexicon, intro here by a squad of adorables from U of Colorado. Or test your global gestural understanding with this excellent Japanese teacher. And this bit o’ awesome is snatched from a class on Chimpanzee body language, though it also inspires questions about the primacy of gesture over verbal language.
These things won’t give you the satisfaction that a list of do’s and don’ts will give you. But they do help you find your own personally authentic ways of sharing treasure, without turning into a singer-bot or robo-speaker. See the Puppies post for more on that.