This week’s meeting, which started small but gained momentum as a few members trickled in late, revealed something interesting. The body language of the speakers broke along gender lines. “He spoke very strongly and clearly,” said Susan in her evaluation of Tim, “but did you notice? He was doing the man thing.”
“The Man Thing” is clasping the hands tightly in front of you, at belly-button level or just below. There may be flourishes where the arms shoot out to illustrate a point, but the hands always spring back to that safe, home position.
If Susan is right that The Man Thing is indeed a man thing, then a bit of armchair psychoanalysis is irresistible. Men are more heavily defended emotionally, see? Those clasped hands are like a heavy iron lock on the castle door.
But there may be practical reasons. Lorne was also busted for doing The Man Thing in his speech number 8 from the Competent Communicator’s Manual. But Lorne has a slight tremor in his right hand, so he pins it with his left. The result looks like … The Man Thing.
The question of where to put your hands has bedeviled public speakers since Socrates, who when making a complicated abstract point often did that steepling gesture with his fingers, which made him look pompous. (Not really. But maybe.) Where can you put your hands? At your sides? Too stiff? Behind the back? Too shifty. Some speakers do the Brian Williams “pinch an inch” or the Stan Laurel head scratch, or they squeeze their notes so tightly you half expect dangling modifiers to drip out and splash on the table, plop plop.
The right answer is to let the hands move naturally as we speak. But it takes practice to set them free. Weirdly, it seems to take more practice for guys.
When John came up to give an impromptu speech about trade shows, he caught himself doing The Man Thing. So he made an on-the-fly adjustment, man-style. He put his hands in his pockets.