© Freds | Dreamstime Stock Photos In most of the western world this is a strong, positive signal, but in some countries you might just have lost your customer!

© Freds | Dreamstime Stock Photos
In most of the western world this is a strong, positive signal, but in some countries you might just have lost your customer!

Here we enter an area which can depend on your own personality. If you are naturally animated and use a lot of hand gestures, you have an advantage. If you are nervous and your hands are shaking, then holding your notes is not a good idea, as the papers will shake even more than your hands! In fact, what to do with your hands is a common problem and many speakers grip the podium or microphone stand, or plunge their hands into their pockets, in order to keep things under control.

However, the hands can be used most effectively to emphasise points, like counting off important list items on one hand with the index finger of the other.

NOTE: Be very careful with hand gestures if you are presenting abroad, or if there are foreign nationals in your audience. I lived for many years in Finland and was repeatedly surprised when my students indicated ‘two’ with a gesture that means ‘up yours’ in the UK, Australia and other Commonwealth countries. I was polite enough to point out to them that it would not be the best way to order a couple of beers in a British bar.

In Thailand, a good old thumbs up sign can be interpreted as a childish stuck-out tongue. In Iran and Afghanistan it means, again, something like ‘up yours’.

In Greece, a palm-outward stop gesture is an insult.

In Vietnam, crossing your fingers to indicate hope for a lucky result will be interpreted as an insult referring to female genitalia.

Raising your clenched fist in victory will be misunderstood in several countries.

Also, pointing your finger directly at people can seem quite aggressive, and I would avoid it anywhere.

There are very many of these cultural idiosyncrasies, so it is well worth researching the country you are either visiting, or that you are receiving guests from. For example (and this is relevant to greeting your presentation attendees), it is a common habit for westerners to receive a business card with just one hand, glance at it briefly and then stuff it unceremoniously into their top pocket. The Chinese do things differently. The card is offered with both hands, with the text facing the recipient. It should be received in the same way, with both hands. It is then polite to actually read the card and make some comment about its owner, like, “Ah, I see you are the department manager, this is a very good position.” The card can now be placed on the table in front of you, as if it has significant value.

There are far too many countries and cultures in the world to expand on this further; in fact, it would provide material for quite a large book. Luckily, there are many good-quality business-oriented sites on the Internet where you can find such information.

However, it is estimated that between 70% to 90% of communication is non-verbal, so using your hands, facial expressions and whole body to help get your message across is an important skill to practice. Having your hands in your pockets can suit the stand-up comedian with a dry sense of humour, but is ill suited to a sales presentation. Standing with your arms folded suggests an attitude closed to audience participation.

This is an extract from my book “How to Create and Deliver a Great Presentation”. More details can be found HERE.