Hands That Lie

9th August, 2010 - Posted from janebeard

I just saw a video, part of the Washington Post’s good “On Leadership” series, featuring author Pamela Myer. Myer wrote the book, Lie Spotting. I bet it’s a good book, because her talking points are clear, memorable and useful. I even bet she’s smart and a confident authentic speaker – just not in this video.

The irony here is that Myer is lying about her authentic style of speaking. She didn’t mean to be – I’m sure of that. My third bet: she listened to some self-described expert tell her something like, “Don’t wave your hands around,” or even “Keep Your hands at your side – your body language will be stronger.” So she followed those instructions.

The problem is, Myer is what we call a “Hand Talker.” Watch her shoulders as she speaks. They’re moving because she has to do something with the energy that is getting pinned to her legs. You can see her looking minutely distracted – and that’s because she is (I’d bet) struggling to keep her hands from entering the dialogue, they way they would on any other occasion.

Watch the expression in her face when her hands finally cut loose to illustrate a point – and then get sent right back down to her sides, where someone told her they belong.

Hand Talkers NEED their hands to communicate. There’s nothing wrong with that, except in the minds of Body Language Police, who are paying attention to the wrong things.

If you are a Hand Talker, for goodness sakes, use your hands! No matter what the presentation venue is – video, live meeting – even a telephone meeting. Your hands will help you communicate, even when we can’t see you.

If you get coaching from someone who tells you to keep your hands still, find another coach. Seriously. Audiences want your authentic connection to reach them. Some people, Hand Talkers in particular, are helped when they allow their hands to do what they do when they speak like a regular person to regular people.

The point of speaker coaching – whether you pay an expert, or take the advice of a trusted colleague – is to help the speaker connect to the audience. Instead, a lot of coaching comes in the form of trying to gussy up the speaker so they look “better.” We would have advised Ms. Myer very differently.

Here’s a link to another video in the Post series. Watch how authentically connected this speaker, Dartmouth President Dr. Jim Yong Kim, is to us. See how he’s completely focused on helping us hear and use what he’s telling us. He’s not thinking about what his hands should or shouldn’t do at all.Those hands would never pass muster with the Body Language Police. But they support every syllable he speaks. It’s a terrific presentation.

Meanwhile, buy Lie Spotting. The least we can do is plug the book, after holding up her performance as an object lesson.