Pocket Hands

A friend of mine pointed me to this blog post by a woman named Shamelle, "12 Words and Phrases that Automatically Kill Your Self Image". On a side note, the author offers a class called "Title Writing: Save the Drama for Your Mama so You Don't Perish in Flames and Lose Your Family to Wild Dogs". It's pretty good.

Besides laughing out loud at one poster's comment about how his son says the F--- word more since working at a Chevy dealership, the article reminds me of a time when I had just finished an hour of coaching public speaking at a Wyoming school principals conference.

After my hour, I was approached by a professional speaker who told me that he had some advice for me. He said that I made the mistake of speaking in front of a group while having either of my hands in my pockets, and that I did so twice.

It was true. I did have my hands in my pockets a couple of times. In this case, I was aware that I was doing it, and it was purposeful to the extent that although it was not planned, it was a posture that matched the message I was conveying.

It is fine for a presenter to have their (own) hands in their pockets as long as:

  1. the posture matches the occurring auditory 'track' (i.e. pocket-hands is sometimes an unconscious move when I am deeply listening to someone)
  2. the presenter is in a more conversational, less formal moment
  3. the presenter is in a personally vulnerable moment
  4. the presenter is consciously matching a hostile audience's emotional state with his/her body
  5. the presenter is playing a character
To me, effective public communication is not so much about being professional as being real. There are almost always norms and procedures we need to follow in every presentational dynamic, but in my world of public speaking, "genuine" almost always achieves more than "rules".

The challenge is learning how to be genuine in the midst of craft.

And finally, be wary of people promoting sound bites or 'easy fix' communication tips like "never put your hands in your pocket" or "always speak without 'um'". Audience style, speaker style, and event dynamics are all valid considerations that should influence our behaviors.

There are very few pervasive, simplistic communication keys. While there are a great number of easily understood strategies, most of them have unexplored room for the creative communicator to grow.