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QuickBites: How to Break the Rules and Break Out of the Boundaries


People often wonder what they should do with their hands while speaking? And, as I’ve mentioned on several occasions, the simple answer is whatever you would normally do … within reason. And to help keep it within reason, public speaking coaches often use various shapes to describe where your hands should be when gesturing, including circle, box, and square. But, no matter what they call it, it suggests your hands stay in boundaries that go from your chin to your waist and about the same distance from side to side.


Keeping your hands mainly within these boundaries is a solid rule of thumb that helps keep your hands from flailing all over the place and becoming a distraction. But, as always, rules are made to be broken, and occasionally breaking this rule offers you a tremendous opportunity to call attention to specific parts of your talks.


Let’s say you’re telling a story about a child having a nightmare. At one point, she is being chased by a monster. At that time, you might break out of the boundaries and hold your hands up high to illustrate the monster. Or, if you’re delivering a business presentation where you call attention to the fact that costs are down, you might lower your hand much lower than your waist. Perhaps you’re telling a story of the proverbial fish that grew every time the fisherman recounts his catch, and the fish that started out at 18″ is now four feet long. When you illustrate this with your hands, they have to break out of the suggested boundaries.


The size of your gestures also depends on your proximity to your audience. When speaking to smaller, intimate audiences relatively close to you, your gestures will usually be smaller. When speaking to larger audiences, your gestures will usually be more prominent. However, even when you’re speaking to large audiences, your gestures don’t have to be nearly as big if you’re projected onto large screens.


It comes down to this. Gesturing in a circle, square, box, or whatever you want to call it has its merits, but both you and your audiences are best served when you let your content, circumstances, and desired effect determine when you break the rules and break out of the boundaries.