Watch Where You Put Your Hands… on Video!

Effective hand gestures on video

via Pixabay

I was watching a video by a PR Pro recently. The information was excellent, but her mannerisms were distracting. While video performance techniques and speaker presentation skills are similar, some of the ways you learn to command a room won’t look right on video.

One of the first questions new on-camera presenters usually ask is, “What do I do with my hands?”

Here are a few video Do’s and Don’ts:

HAND-TALKERS

Let’s face it, many people talk with their hands and that’s okay most of the time. Two things to keep in mind for video are:

  1. how the camera shot is framed and
  2. how your gestures look on camera.

If the shot is framed to show just your head and shoulders, your shoulders may move up and down as you move your hands.  No one will see your hands, and they may be puzzled by your bobbing shoulders.

To correct this, you can raise your hands to show in that head and shoulder frame, but that means your hands are in front of your face and that can look a little odd. A better choice for a hand-talker is to frame the shot wider as a full body or waist up shot so viewers see your hands moving naturally. If you’re appearing on TV or someone is shooting video for you, ask how the shot will be framed.

PERSPECTIVE DISTORTION

What is closest to the camera lens appears largest. Again, depending on the framing of the shot, extending your hands in front of you toward the camera may make your hands look enormous, bigger than your head!  Monster hands are generally not a good look.

HAND GESTURE DO’S AND DON’T’S

Do use gestures in a way that’s naturally expressive for you. I generally advise against wagging your finger or pointing at the camera. In most cases, it’s rude and you wouldn’t do it in person.

Forcing yourself not to move your hands if you usually do can feel awful and look stiff and robotic. However, you don’t want your hands and arms flying around non-stop with your elbows flapping.

If you’re not a hand-talker, don’t force yourself to use your hands. Your gestures will likely look unnatural and awkward. Instead, go for an open body stance with your head up, shoulders straight or one slightly angled forward and your arms and hands resting comfortably at your sides. Another alternative is to fold or hold your hands gently in front of you at the waist. Stand tall, but be relaxed. You don’t need an exaggerated ramrod straight military posture on camera.

Don’t cross your arms in front of your chest or position your hands as if they were a fig leaf covering your lower body’s private parts. Don’t stick your hands in your pockets or clasp them behind your back.

Do develop a variety of hand gestures and use them sparingly and for emphasis. In the PR woman’s video, she held her elbows close to her waist, but she only had one gesture…extending both hands out to the side with the palms up and folding them back to the center at the waist.

That gesture looked fine the first couple of times I saw it. Trouble was she used it after nearly every sentence! I found myself hypnotized watching the constant rhythmic back and forth motion of her hands and arms. I had to really concentrate on listening, not watching or what she was saying would have been completely lost on me.

Some people like to hold something in their hands. They may even intend to hold it up to the camera at some point. There are various techniques for doing this right, depending on the type and size of the object. Lively children and unruly animals present their own set of “holding” challenges beyond the scope of this article. (Search YouTube and you’ll find some hilarious mishaps.)

What you want to avoid is holding anything, whether it’s a pencil, a microphone or a critter, in a white-knuckle death grip or fidgeting with it.  (TIP- watch the home shopping or cooking channels and take notice of how the hosts position their hands to show different types of items to the camera).

SEE FOR YOURSELF

With today’s technology, there’s no excuse for not being aware of what you look, and sound like on video. Record yourself on your smart phone, tablet or computer. Talk as if you were giving a speech or doing an interview and move your hands the way you normally would. Play it back and critique yourself. Try it again and do something different. Make it fun. Keep trying new things and repeating the exercise until you find what gestures work best for you.

Be warned: Nobody likes what they see at first. You need to get used to yourself on camera. Plus, some people have no idea they gesture wildly, flap their arms, sway side to side or have any number of unconscious and distracting habits until they see a recording.

Good communicators want to make it easy for their audience to “get” their message without distractions. You’ll know you are “media-ready” when you watch the playback and feel comfortable and confident, whether you use hand gestures or not.

 This is a modified version of an article originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.
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Janet Vasil

Media Interview and On-Camera Trainer at Vasil Media Group | Your Media Moment & Beyond
Media Trainer, Speaker Coach AND Video Storyteller Janet Vasil is a former award-winning, EMMY®-nominated Journalist who Helps Leaders Communicate with Impact On Camera, On Stage and In the Media. Contact at http://bit.ly/Talk2Janet

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