Inappropriate hand gestures

6 Inappropriate Hand Gestures to avoid when speaking

An inappropriate hand gesture can very quickly and very easily destroy the credibility that you’ve worked hard to establish. In meetings or in presentations with clients or colleagues, the right hand gesture can add more emphasis and meaning to your messages by powerfully supporting the words you are saying. In this article, I will share with you the six hand gestures that you need to avoid so that you don’t destroy the credibility that you have worked hard to establish.

Inappropriate Hand Gesture: Playing with small objects

The first inappropriate hand gesture to avoid is playing with small objects such as pens, glasses, or any other little object in your hands. By playing with these objects, you’re demonstrating to your audience that you’re unprepared and that you have a level of anxiety. To project confidence and to project an aura of someone who can be trusted, move any small objects away so that you’re unable to reach them and play with them.

Instead let your hands rest comfortably either by your side or on the desk so that you are not fiddling or playing with these objects.

Inappropriate Hand Gesture: Hands behind your head

In meetings, it’s very easy to fall to the temptation of resting your hands behind your head and leaning back. Many believe it projects an aura of confidence. In reality, to your clients and your colleagues, it projects an aura of big-headedness and over confidence. Colleagues and clients will react by not trusting you and believing that you will not be able to work as part of the team. So, resist the temptation to lean back and put your head behind your hands or stand with your hands on your hips because it presents an aura of someone who is self-centred, bigheaded, and not able to be trusted.

Inappropriate Hand Gesture: Arm Crossing

The third hand gesture to avoid is crossing your arms. Whether you’re delivering a presentation or sitting around a table in a meeting, by crossing your arms you present the image that you’re closed to new ideas. You also project an aura of superiority. If you’re with clients and colleagues, this not an aura or image you want to be projecting. You’re much better when you are speaking in front of the room to let your hands or arms just hang loosely by your sides. This gives you a more open stance and posture. If you’re sat at a table, don’t cross your arms. Instead, just sit with your arms comfortably on the table, again, leaving your front of your body open. It projects an image that you’re open to new ideas, that you’re receptive to hearing what they have to say.


By closing your arms, you’re closing off yourself to new ideas, and that’s how your audience will interpret it, so avoid it if you can.

Inappropriate Hand Gesture: The Fig Leaf

One of the more common inappropriate gestures seen with nervous public speakers is standing in front of the audience with their hands crossed in a fig leaf position covering their genital area. It’s a natural position for those that want to protect themselves, and that’s exactly what happens with a new speaker or an inexperienced speaker. They’re trying to protect their sensitive areas from a perceived attack. It’s an attack that is not going to happen in a speech, but that’s the mental reaction to the fight or flight situation.

By walking out and using the fig leaf gesture you project the image of someone who is anxious and nervous by covering your sensitive areas. You’re showing that you are not prepared and that you’re not confident in delivering your presentation, or even confident in the message that you have to share. You’re losing credibility from the start.

Make sure that you let your hands and your arms hang comfortably by your side of your body when you’re speaking, or find other expressive gestures so that your hands don’t gravitate to the fig leaf position and project a level of nervousness that your audience can interpret and see.


Inappropriate Hand Gesture: The Hand Wringer

When you get nervous, many people naturally start to sweat. The excess perspiration often forms on the palm of your hands. For an inexperienced speaker who is nervous, there is obviously going to be an excess of sweat that needs to be removed. The temptation when speaking is to just remove it as quickly as possible, and that often means wiping the hands on either the body or the legs to dry the palms and remove that nervous tension.

Unfortunately, in doing so, apart from making your clothes look unpleasant, it does project that you are nervous and you’re anxious to your audience. To combat this, you’re better placed firstly by just pausing and taking a couple of deep breaths to reduce your anxiety, and if need be, have some tissues or a handkerchief in your pocket that you can use to dry your palms with. Whatever you do, avoid the temptation of drying your hands on either your body or on your legs to remove that sweat.

Inappropriate Hand Gesture: The Pointer

The final inappropriate hand gesture I would like you to avoid is one which is common in many business presentations, and that’s pointing. It’s understandable that as a speaker you want to reference the audience, often, that’s a positive thing. When gesturing and referring to your audience you want to resist the temptation even in a positive way of pointing at the audience.

Bill Clinton suffered with this when he was early in his career. He was taught, and this is what I’m going to share with you, the same method that you can use, is to bend his finger in so that if you are going to point and gesture you can gesture to your audience in that way.

Alternatively, you can do it open handed. By pointing, you’re making a threatening gesture. Even if it’s intended in a positive manner, it comes across in a threatening way to your audience. Be conscious of that and resist the temptation to point directly at your audience. If you want to refer to them, use an open handed palm gesture, or bend that finger back and keep it that way so at least that way there isn’t a feeling by individuals in the audience that you are pointing at them. It becomes a much more subtle, a much more gentle, and a lot less threatening gesture to your audience.


We’ve covered six inappropriate hands gestures. Gestures that you want to avoid so that you don’t destroy your credibility that you’ve worked hard to establish. When you’re speaking with clients, you’re sharing ideas with your colleagues, and you project the right image and project a level of confidence it shows that you can be trusted and that your ideas are the ideas that should be followed.


If you’d like more help with your public speaking and presentation skills, I would encourage you to check out the range of free articles and free advice on my blog that will help you from crafting that perfect message to delivering it with impact. There are online training programmes, my Mastermind programme, and one-on-one mentoring options. Check them out and each of them will help you develop your public speaking skills and deliver a message with true impact, and a message that will then influence those that you’re speaking to.


About The Author

Mark Kyte

Mark Kyte is a public speaking mentor and founder of the Public Speaking Skills Academy. Mark loves helping clients achieve dynamic results that help them increase their influence and get more clients. Read more of his blog and if you like what you see check out the mentoring programs.