On-Camera Gesturing: What Do I Do with My Hands?

By February 7, 2018blog
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When we prepare any presentation or performance, we tend to spend the bulk of our time on what we say. However, our words may play only a small role in how well the meaning of our message is understood.

According to Dr. Albert Mehrabian, a research pioneer in nonverbal communication, 55 percent of the meaning of our spoken message is translated nonverbally. Our tone of voice carries an additional 38 percent, while our actual words only convey a paltry 7 percent of the meaning.

Knowing what our body language is saying is crucial, especially if it might be at odds with our oratory. On camera, our bodies speak loud and clear, often without our even realizing it, and that’s why it is imperative to understand how to keep our nonverbal communication in sync with our verbal.

What Do I Do with My Hands?

In the movie Talledega Nights, Ricky Bobby, a character played by Will Ferrell, is being interviewed after a race. He asks the reporter, “What do I do with my hands?” He’s told to just keep them at his sides. During the course of the interview, though, his hands seem to float into the shot as if they were two foreign bodies with minds of their own.

This was done for comedic effect, but there’s a kernel of truth in that bit. When the record light goes on, you can suddenly become hyperaware of your physical self and start asking yourself: how should I stand, should I stay in one place, and, of course, what should I do with my hands?

Authenticity Is the Key

Some people choose to simply take their physical selves out of the equation and not move at all. Their heads stay locked in place, and their hands remain in the same position throughout their entire performance—at their sides, behind their back, or in their pockets. But this approach can backfire because the “don’t move” technique creates a stiffness that looks uncomfortable to the viewer and surely feels uncomfortable for the speaker.

If authenticity is the key to being effective on camera, then your body language should be the same on camera as it is when you are off camera.

More than a Simple Gesture

Here’s the tricky part: most of us are not even aware of how much we gesture. So how do you know where your natural inclinations lie?

Your best bet is to try to have a looseness in your body throughout and allow your gestures to occur organically. The less you think about them, the more likely they will come across as genuine.

I once had a client ask me for a list of gestures to use on camera. I was stymied, mostly because I thought it would be hurting, not helping, his cause. Your presentation style is a combination of your verbal and nonverbal communication, and that style is unique to you.

That’s why it works.

Canned gestures from a list will most likely appear contrived and will make you, the presenter, look fake.

Learn More: On-Camera Coach

If you found this information valuable, check out my book, On-Camera Coach: Tools and Techniques for Business Professionals in a Video-Driven World, now available from Wiley Publishing. On-Camera Coach aims to take the mystery out of communicating through the camera and provides specific tips and techniques that can make your message sing—and you, the messenger, feel confident in a job well done.