Have you seen presenters and performers with these?   It’s not their fault.  They tried hard, and studied what coaches most often say about gesture.

They learned they absolutely MUST use hand and arm gestures. They learned they should stay inside the shoulder-to-waist box. They made sure they didn’t point. They made notes in their text about where to gesture. They learned their palms should be face up. They avoided mime, too much repetition, pumping, pocketing, crossing, hip-holding, behind-the-backing, and a ton of other no-no’s.  They learned plenty.

And yet they still look like a clock-work Lincoln in the Hall of Presidents.

They have Puppethands.


Like the marionettes from Thunderbirds Are Go, like C3PO, like Barbie. Puppethands attract attention because they fail to move in natural coordination with head/neck movement, their articulation is stiff, and their dynamics don’t really make perfect sense with the timing and emotion of the voice.

Anyone can get them.  Not just puppets.

So do these unlucky performers need to learn even more precise rules?  Should they practice more to make it look realistic?

Nerp.  “Looking realistic” just aint enough.  The human brain currently assesses movement with a higher level of sophistication than we can describe it.  So no matter how many rules you follow, movement tells the truth.

Check out these clips of video games and androids. These are so freakin’ cool. And the stillshots look amazing, right?   It’s the movement that tells us that what we’re looking at is a fake. Lifelike, yes. But we can do better than “lifelike”.

Beyond the movement issue, we recognize fakey gestures because outside-in coaching just doesn’t work as well as inside out.

That means stop trying to “seem” more this, or “look” more that, or “come across as” something.  It’s pointless.

But I seem nervous!

–    Because you are.

But I don’t want to seem nervous!

–    Why not?

… and here’s the fork in the road.  Either the answer is “because it will make me look stupid,” or the answer is “because this message needs to get to this audience.”

Which road do you want to travel down?

The coaching that goes down the Not Looking Stupid road focuses on externals about the speaker. And since they don’t really work, the road eventually dead ends.

The road called Audience Gets Message is more a verb than a noun. It’s movement, and it requires us to focus more on the message and the audience than on ourselves. The Audience Gets Message road leads forward to the goal and well beyond it in all directions.  It allows for innovation, rule-breaking, weirdness, and non-standard but effective new kinds of communication.

But if I look stupid, they won’t hear my message!

–  Are you sure about that?

Usually, when we are outside-in oriented, we don’t actually pay attention to the audience, not really.  So, ask who IS this audience, and what do they think is stupid?   Tell me about their specific context, their needs, challenges, strengths, and expectations.

But how do you fix puppethands?

Start by not treating yourself like a marionette with a superego hanging out above your body.  Instead, get right down inside your body.  And now take a look at this audience, right now.


I know, it’s MUCH more frightening.

More on that in posts to come.



First, go watch this video from Stanford Graduate School of Business, called Make Body Language Your Super Power.

Did you go watch it?  Because I really want you to have your own opinions and not just see what I’ve primed you to see.

Okay, what did you notice?

My professional opinion is:   oh my god they are so freaking adorable, they’re like puppies and I want to eat them up.

Where to start…  okay, so there’s an immediate laugh as we hear about gesture as an effective presentation tool, demonstrated using the most unnatural and awkward looking gestures I’ve seen in, maybe, oh, ever.   By minute 4, I already love these people for life. 

Why do I love them, when they all suck so very, very badly at body language?  Like, if Siri and C3P0 tried having phone sex, that level of bad?

Because of what they actually ARE saying with their bodies.

They’re saying, “We studied so hard.  We’re good students, who trust our professors and enjoy our classmates. We’re pushing ourselves beyond our limits, and trying like fun to learn this strange, exotic language called Business Gesture.”

And they DID study hard; this is their final project for a Strategic Communication Course at a highly respected institution, from super high-end teachers including Nancy Duarte and JD Schramm.

The give, the show, the chop, palms down, no pointing, congruency, creativity, power position, audience as hero – this unit gave them some of the most popular contemporary public speaking advice available, and by God they’re learning it.

And we in the audience are learning that these techniques are completely artificial.

Maybe we’ll get used to this particular lexicon of “Business Gesture”, like we got used to politicians doing the knuckle-point.  Like we got used to the inhuman vocal cadences of newscasters of the 1980’s, or the Life Magazine styles of the Jackie O media set, or baseball’s wonderfully bizarre radio announcers of the 40’s, or the fake-English Received Pronunciation accents and steamy over-the-shoulder glances of Golden Age Hollywood.

Maybe the chop, the give and the show are like the selfie ducklips of contemporary business meetings.

If so, dump them now.

Here’s how they were created:  someone watched people who were passionate and persuasive, and tried to analyze what they saw.  Ducklips aren’t sexy; ducklips are people “doing” sexy.   Knuckle pointing isn’t authoritative; it’s people “doing” authoritative.   It’s what actors call an outside-in attempt, and it comes off looking like either a little kid wearing mommy’s boots or an alien trying to pass for hyoo-mawn. (“We’re from France.”)

For direct address presentation, we want to know what you ACTUALLY look like when you’re passionate, and you know what you’re doing, and you’re committed to sharing an idea.

What does Matt really look like when he’s shocked about a video?  How does Colin really move when he wants everyone in the room to hear him?   What does Jeong Joon do when he’s explaining something crucial?   And what does Jennifer look like when she’s really interacting with her audience?

Happily, we do get a tiny taste of that last one, and it’s delightful.   At 12:14, Jennifer actually does what she’s telling us to do:  she interacts with the audience.  And in the moment of her true listening and being surprised by the answer (amethyst? WTF??), she suddenly pops into being real.

It’s like night and day.

We only see that kind of present moment truth in one other place, back at 2:20 when Matt screws up, and for just a moment, his gesture becomes real: spontaneous, appropriate, balanced, grounded, fully extended, coordinated, and targeted.

Sometimes we humans get it right by getting it wrong.

So did I learn to make body language my superpower, like the video title says?  No, but I did learn:

  • Audience interaction absolutely works, even if you’re kind of a novice.
  • A fumble can actually improve your game.


  • These grad students are flipping awesome and should be hired immediately.

Gawd bless ‘em.  And may no one ever unearth any video from my own graduate school days.