Gestures: The “Ricky Bobby” Dilemma

Do you remember the scene in “Talledega Nights” when Will Farrell’s character, Ricky Bobby, was being interviewed on TV and let his hands float awkwardly into the shot for no apparent reason? Have you ever felt the same way? Most of the people I coach tell me the same thing Ricky Bobby said: “I’m not sure what to do with my hands!” Let me offer some assistance.

Gestures, like our vocal inflection, are vital when we’re delivering a presentation. They add emphasis and help the audience understand what we believe is important. Think of your gestures as the visual bold, italic, and underlining of your speech. And there’s probably something in every sentence you say that needs a little emphasis. Adding a gesture of some kind will help make your points.

I have three guidelines for effective gestures. Give these a try as you practice your next presentation.

First, gestures need to be above-the-waist to count. No half-hearted flippy hands down by your legs, please, and no elbows-velcro’d-to-your-side gestures, either. Gestures need to be up where we can see them with air in the armpits.

Second, try one-handed gestures. Use two hands when you absolutely need them, but for the rest of the time, one hand is enough. I think gestures instantly look more natural and relaxed when you utilize one just one arm. I know what your next question is—and that leads me right into point #3.

Third, what do you do with the hand that’s left behind? Plant it somewhere! Rest those finger tips on the top of the conference table or the side of the lectern. Grasp the top of the chair or flipchart easel you’re standing next to. For many presentations, the leftover hand will be busy holding a hand-held mic or remote clicker. And, contrary to many other speaker coaches, I’m a big fan of one hand in the pocket. I think people, especially men, look instantly cool and calm with one hand tucked away. Now, it can’t live in that pocket for the entire presentation, but it stay there for a short while.

When one hand is grounded somewhere touching something, it can instantly relax you. You don’t feel like you’re floating out in space. Then, when you find your groove a few minutes in to the speech, you can let go and have that hand available for gesturing going forward.

So, for all you Ricky Bobbys out there, don’t fret. Try these tricks and you can “shake-and-bake” with the best of them, too!

© Jill Bremer 2017

Build Your Visibility

Feeling a little invisible at work? Looking for ways to stand out and distinguish yourself from the crowd? It’s difficult to create a strong executive presence if no one knows who you are or what you do. Here are some strategies for building your visibility: 

Daily – 

Nurture your network by making one non-required contact each day. Make a call or send a note.

Weekly – 

For the required meetings you go to, ask what you can bring or how you can help, like taking the meeting minutes.

Find out if there are other meetings you can attend outside of your department. You’ll benefit from other perspectives and can build your business acumen and value to the organization.

Monthly – 

Attend events in your industry both large and small. You can reap different rewards from each.

Volunteer for your professional organizations and be more than a good volunteer, be great. Consider volunteering first for the membership committee. You get to know everyone and can serve as the master connector. 

Search out the associations your clients belong to and go to those meetings, too, to stay current on happenings in their industry.

Arrive early to any meeting, if you can. It’s a prime opportunity to introduce yourself to the board members and speaker. Volunteer to help them with setting up or with the registration table.

Quarterly – 

Get your name in print. Write for trade publications, op-ed pieces, client newsletters. 

Consider attending an event outside your industry. Be the only one there who does what you do!

Annually – 

Attend at least one conference in your field. Conferences provide valuable relationship-building opportunities and can bring you national and international visibility.

Do a presentation or panel discussion at the conference. Opportunities abound for those who can deliver a solid presentation. 

Additional Ideas – 

Volunteer for a special project or task force.

Chair a committee (and chair it well!)

Develop a diverse network of people, including people from all areas within your organization. Be the person who knows where to go to get answers.

Adapted from “It’s Your Move: Dealing Yourself the Best Cards in Life and Work,” by Cyndi Maxey and Jill Bremer.

Techniques for Team Presentations

With apologies to Liam Neeson, team presentations require a “very particular set of skills.” They shouldn’t be thrown together at the last minute or delivered without a work-through to figure out how all the pieces are going to fit together. To be successful, team presentations need to factor in all of the following techniques.

  • Plan to rehearse all together in-person at least once, if you can. You may not need to go through it word-for-word, but you do need to practice how you’ll handle the presentation introduction, #speaker transitions, conclusion, as well as any planned and unplanned Q & A. Figure out where everyone will stand (or sit) while they wait to speak, how they’ll pass the remote clicker to each other, which direction they’ll exit the space after speaking, etc. A quick walk-through will prevent fumbling and bumping into each other.
  • As you’re waiting on the sidelines for your turn to speak, stay focused on the speaker. Your side conversations and phone scrolling will pull focus. Whatever you look at, we’ll look at, so make sure that’s the speaker.
  • Whoever kicks off the presentation at the top should include a self-introduction, as well as an intro of every team member waiting in the wings. They should wave or nod when they hear their name called so the audience can start to put names and faces together.
  • “Lectern #etiquette” says that the speaking area should never go unoccupied. Each team member should wait to surrender the space to the next speaker. As you transition to the next person, stay in place until they reach you, then walk away. I recommend taking a step back as you exit so you don’t walk right in front of them.
  • Good teams turn speaker transitions into an art form. What not to do: “So I’ll turn it over now to Bob.” Preferred: “And now I’ll bring up Bob, who’ll talk about the best restaurants in Chicago—so you’ll always know the right place and the best price. Bob?” What makes the second example better? The speaker not only shared Bob’s name, but also set him up for success by teasing his topic and the audience relevance. You’ve done the heavy lifting for Bob and all he needs to do is deliver on your promise.
  • If you plan to end with a formal Q & A, all team members should reconvene front and center. You don’t want someone answering a question from the side wall. Don’t talk over each other during Q & A, either. If two people start answering at once, one person will need to let the other continue. If you disagree with a teammate’s response, please don’t throw them under the bus in front of everyone. “But John, don’t you remember? This was already agreed upon last week!” Instead of “but”, use the old trick of “yes, and”. “Yes, and I’d like to add to John’s answer that the board did vote to move forward last week.”

© 2017 Jill Bremer

Test Your Presentation Skills!

th0RV633LPHere’s a quick quiz to test your presentation skills savvy:

1. It’s impactful to walk around as you present. True or False?

2. It’s important to try to make eye contact with each set of eyes in the audience. True or False?

3. It’s a good idea to put an entire idea on a single slide. True or False?

4. Don’t waste time adding in transitions from point to point. Just get on with it! True or False?

5. Articulating the relevance of your topic to the audience is crucial. True or False?

Click here to see the answers (Hint: scroll to the bottom of the page).