Towards the last days of 2020 (makes it sound like that was ages ago, right?), I got a number of questions from some of you. Thank you for taking the time to reach out with those queries. I haven’t forgotten them, but plan to begin answering them, hence today’s email is on finger pointing. I had briefly touched on using your hands when standing before an audience in a previous post. Therefore, I don’t intend to go through the entire discussion on the benefits of using gestures while speaking or also some of the DO’s and DON’T’S of using gestures.
Rather, this post will focus on the art of pointing, so let us get right into it.
The witch was ugly and haggard, she had a protruding chin, thin bloodless lips and grizzly facial hair. Underneath her greasy thinning hair, were a pair of coal-black eyes that felt like they were burning into your soul. She looked at the baby girl and pointing a bony index finger at Sophia placed a curse on her, thereby turning this beautiful baby into a hideous monster.
This short story above is to highlight one of the age old uses of pointing. I wanted to share this story so you can have a feel of how some of the members of your audience feel when you are standing there pointing while speaking. Of course, it isn’t your intention to place a curse on people, but that wouldn’t stop them feeling attacked or being TOLD what to do. Most adults are not happy feeling as if they are being given a command of what they MUST do.
To stop people feeling as if you are just there to insult or assault them by forcing them to do your bidding, it is essential that you avoid pointing at people.
Why do we point?
We mainly point to make a point (no pun intended). Or we use this as a way to include you in our conversation – by pointing at the individuals in the audience, you include them in your speech. Another use of this gesture is to indicate something is still in the future, you want people to see a particular situation as yet to come.
Alternatives to pointing
Pointing is generally seen as rude, which is why some cultures have found other methods of pointing without using the index finger. I was reading an article about a community in Papua New Guinea where they use their lips to point. You have to read it to see for yourself. However, this also shows you how culture affects a lot of things, in my native country, jutting out your lips at someone is rude, so no way I will be encouraging you to use your lips while speaking to a crowd.
Let’s take a cue from politicians (see, we can actually learn something from them).
Barack Obama would use the pinch motion in his speech (just check the first 30 seconds). Since one of the uses of pointing is to indicate to the audience (in his case) that it is time to restart their relationship, he consciously decides to pinch instead. He was addressing a group of Muslim leaders and pointing at them could have been seen as aggressive and forcing them to go for a new beginning.
Another option is to stretch out your hand in an open gesture towards the audience or individual. Instead of including someone in your speech and thereby excluding everybody else by pointing, try gesturing with a palm up motion.
The final option is the Trump OK pinch. To be fair, at the moment he has pretty much spoilt it for the rest of us who are genuine but the OK pinch is still much better than pointing.
Whichever way you go, keep in mind that the gesture has to be natural. It helps while practicing your story to try out playing with hand gestures, however don’t become a robot while moving your hands. Your body helps tell your story not works against it. And if you pick up on a mistake in the midst of your story – no biggie! Just drop your hands back to your sides for a couple of seconds, that works like a reset switch. And continue with an open gesture which would directly (re)connect you with your audience.
I hope there is something in here for you to try out. Do let me know if it works.