Lesson from Spencer Tracy – what does hands in the pocket convey.

 In Actors, Learning from Luminaries

In the 1920’s, legendary producer and director George M Cohan was coaching a young Spencer Tracy (Tracy went on to win two Oscars and had nine Academy Award nominations) in the rehearsal of one of Cohan’s plays.

Tracy as relayed on page 91 of James Curtis’ novel Spencer Tracy (Hutchinson, 2011) commented on Cohan’s coaching as follows. “Taught me to keep my hands out of my pockets. Don’t be a lazy actor. Don’s start hiding your hands, so you’ll never know what to do with them.”

Many people I consult with in my sales presentation and speech communication work, hide their hands and end up not knowing what to do with them.  They often do one of the following things:

– put both hands in their pockets (ie. for men).

– clasp their hand behind their body.

– clasp their hand in front of their bodies.

– cross their arm in front of their body.

Optimally in business interactions and presentations you never want to hide your hands or use them as a barrier to close yourself off from people.

Optimally your hands should be held in a relaxed manner at the side of your body. That will allow them to be used and be ‘available’ to support your spoken messages. Here are some of the ways they can be used:

– to illustrate differences in quantity or size. For example you can say, “Just a small piece of effort (as you put a thumb and index finger close together) can make a huge difference” (as you create a large space with two widely space hands with the palms facing each other).

– to illustrate time differences. For example, you can say, “Think of your life in 1990 (as you place a hand to the left, front space in relation to your body); Now think of your life today (as you place that hand directly in front of your body); Now think what your life will be like in 2025″ (as you place the hand to the right, front space in relation to your body).

– to illustrate passion. For example, you can say, “I have faith in you, to do this job.” (as you place a clenched fist in front of your body).

The ‘how to apply’ for this post: In the next seven days keep your hands available, unhidden and open so they can be used to support your spoken messages.

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Showing 2 comments
  • Joseph

    Very good insights about using the right gestures. They can be very powerful in driving home the message. Barack Obama seems to do a pretty good job of using his hands as well.

    • michael

      thanks Joseph. Obama does well and he seems to use and hands naturally to support his spoken messages.

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