I was coaching a property consultant in Presentation Skills recently and I opened my feedback as follows:
“You have very engaging style, clear voice, descriptive phrases and strong eye contact. You also have very expressive hands.” “Yes, I know,” she said; “my bosses have told me I’ve got to sit on my hands.”
I pleaded with her not to sit on her hands as she actually used them rather well and the gesturing was clearly intrinsic to her (very engaging) personality. “The only problem you have,” I said, “is that there is just a bit too much of it.”
I went on to explain that, because her hand movements were a natural part of personality, it was likely that she was largely oblivious to them. What she needed to do, therefore, was to develop a greater awareness of how her audience saw her. She would probably then realise it was all a bit gesture-heavy and she could work at controlling her movements, by planning moments of stillness. Then she could save the gesturing for when she really wanted to emphasise key points. This would be all the more effective because the gestures would come from a foundation of stillness, rather than potentially getting lost in a flurry of on-going hand activity.
This is the opposite of the more common situation where I am recommending a more animated delivery, for which we build in planned moments of active gesturing to reinforce key messages. In each case the starting point is one of establishing a greater awareness of how the person is presenting currently and that probably requires video. I am not the sort of Presentation Skills coach who reaches automatically for the video camera and I can point to various scenarios in which it does more harm than good. I tend to spare the camera for working on the kind of specifics I am describing here.
I brought the camera out on one occasion when the presenter had a peculiar way of holding his arm and twirling it as he spoke. I suspected he had little or no knowledge that he was doing this. He confirmed as much when I played back the video and he said, with some amazement: “I dance like that.”
As I said up front, you should always let your own personality come through in a presentation – but within limits that show self-awareness!