Learn to control your finger pointing

Bill CLinton Finger PointingDon’t point your finger at me! I don’t like it. I especially don’t like it when you “wiggle”your finger” in my face.

Most people share my feelings. Who likes to be publicly scolded?

Why do I  – and others – have such a strong reaction to this gesture? According to Carol Kinsey Goman in “The Nonverbal Advantage: Secrets of Body Language at Work,”

“… I’ve often seen politicians and executives use this gesture in meetings, negotiations, or interviews for emphasis or to show dominance. The problem is that rather than being a sign of authority, aggressive finger pointing (with one or four fingers) suggests that the person is losing control of the situation, and it smacks of playground bullying.”

  • Losing control of the situation
  • Smacks of playground bullying

These are hardly signs of strength and authority! Certainly not what the speaker intended. What about the “finger-pointer-in-chief” – former President Bill Clinton? What is he actually communicating, non-verbally – when he wags his index finger at a reporter or at someone in the audience?

That he is losing control of the situation. That he is trying to be overly aggressive; trying to intimidate; trying to regain control of a situation that is quickly deteriorating.

It is not a gesture of strength. And… once we realize what this nonverbal communication is really telling us, how do we feel about the speaker who is wagging their finger at us?

Well, what did the playground bully do once you called him or her on their actions? They immediately backed down. They demonstrated that they had lost control and that they never had the power to intimidate you.

Unfortunately, most of us never call a “powerful” politician or business executive on their actions. Why not? Perhaps this is because (unfortunately) few of us ever called a schoolyard bully on their actions.

We may suspect that this is just a “fit of anger.” That is just an “act.”

It is an act – an act of desperation!

Once we understand and learn to correctly interpret a person’s “body language” we can turn this “acting” to our advantage. We can gain leverage during our negotiations. We can gain the “nonverbal advantage!”

Of course, we must look at the context of the gesture. An isolated instance of finger pointing does not signal “losing control.” However, combined with a flushed face and an elevation in the pitch of the voice and the use of deliberate language… Now that is telling us something about the “finger pointer.” It is quite revealling about their real feelings. About their loss of control. About their bullying behavior.

Certainly, he is not the only “finger-pointer,” but why doesn’t former President Clinton take steps to minimize his finger-pointing?  Why doesn’t one of his close aides or family members “point this out” to him? (Pun intended!)

Why do playground bullies persist? Why do business executives seem to get away with this kind of behavior? Why do so many parents lose control of a situation when talking with their children?


Now that you have gained some insight into how to interpret this angry gesture, will you react differently the next time?

Maybe yes. Maybe no. Even if you do not react differently – by calling them on their finger pointing, at least you now know that “finger pointing” is just a mask for someone losing control of the situation. Someone who is possibly hiding something. Someone who is afraid.  If you react properly, you can turn this to your advantage. You can gain the upper hand – not just the fingers!

To read a related article that I published on this subject, click here.

Please share your comments about “finger pointing” with our readers. Add your comments below.


Learn to speak with your handshake

What does your handshake say about you? How do your clients and colleagues react to your handshake? Do you give your colleague the same handshake that you extend to a new client? If not, why not? How do you react when someone gives you a “dead fish” handshake? Cold and clammy, I’ll bet!

Want to know more about the “dos and don’ts” of handshaking? Click here to view a slide show of handshaking examples – good and bad –  on the Business Week Magazine website.

How many times a day do you shake a person’s hand? So many times that you probably don’t even think about it.

But you should think about it. Not about the number. You need to examine how your personal handshaking style. You need to be sure that you convey a positive message when you “speak” with your handshake.

Here is why:

New research by University of Iowa business professor Greg Stewart confirms that a firm, solid handshake is an important part of a successful job interview, while a dead fish can end the interview before it even begins.

More important, in fact, than dress or physical appearance, the handshake seems to be a trigger that sets off an interviewer’s overall impression of a person.”

I encourage you to look at the handshaking examples in the Business Week slide show. Here are a few tips:

  • Both men and women should be proactive – don’t wait for someone to shake your hand. Extend your hand first.
  • Ensure that your handshake is firm – not strong – and that you make full-palm contact. The web of your hand touches the web of the other person’s hand.
  • Always make eye contact with the other person when you are shaking hands. This means that you must stand up to greet the other person when you shake hands.
  • Smile when you shake hands.
  • Always keep your right hand available to shake hands.
  • Be aware of “personal space” when you shake hands. In normal situations people will stand about two feet apart. As your relationship develops this distance will narrow.
  • Regardless of your gender, make sure that your handshake is firm. This conveys the message that you are confident and that you are assertive.
  • Start talking – say your name, for example – before you end your handshake.

Your handshake is your calling card. It reflects your personality. It is difficult to “fake.” It leaves a lasting impression of you.

What impression do you want to make? Learn to “speak” with your handshake.

Don’t Point Your Finger!

hillary-points-finger.jpgYour mother told you! “It’s not polite to point your finger at someone.” And she was correct on this point. I do not like to have someone point their finger at me – literally or figuratively.

Senator Hillary Clinton – It is time that you started to listen to your mother! Remember what she told you: “It’s not polite to point your finger at someone. It will not earn you any points (votes) and people do not appreciate it.”


Senator Barack Obama also points his finger. What politician does not? But this post – and my blog – is not about “political finger pointing.” I am not writing about shifting the blame. I am posting and blogging about effective communications.


I have been watching the videos and analyzing the body language of each candidate vying for their party’s presidential nomination. In reviewing the video of the recent CNN debate between Senator Clinton and Obama I noticed a distinct difference in how each candidate uses the fingers to make a point:


  • Sen. Clinton consistently pointed her finger directly at her audience.
  • Sen. Obama usually pointed his finger upwards or to the side.

This may seem subtle to some. And it may prove significant to others. And it may play a role in the outcome of the voting. We will see. We listen to what we see!


However, professional speech coaches agree that you should avoid literally pointing or poking your finger at someone. Here is a quote form Joan Detz, the author of “It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It.”


“Don’t point at the audience. The simple truth is, no one likes to be pointed at.”


At this late date in a heated primary election campaign, Hillary Clinton is probably not listening to outside experts on body language and effective communication styles. She is relying on instinct and (unconsciously) responding in the heat of the moment. In my opinion, she does not respond effectively – especially with ter body language – when feels that she is being attacked or is having her proposals rejected. Who does? I don’t. Do you? Of course not. But we must be aware of how we physically react when we are attacked:


We listen with our eyes.


No matter what we say, people will remember what they see. We remember more of what we see than what we hear.


This is the image that plays back in my head when I see someone pointing their finger at the audience.



It is not a pretty picture. It will not win votes. It is not polite. Just ask your mother. She will tell you – and she will not point her finger at you!

When you give a speech or make a presentation you must present your point of view – that’s why you were invited to speak. To be effective you must state your point, present you case and back up your points and finally give your audience a call to action. Make you point. Point out how you differ from your opponent. Just remember not to point you finger at you audience!

They will get the point.

Take Note!

obama-takes-notes-at-debate.jpg As I watched the televised debate between Senators Clinton and Obama, I was struck by one particular piece of “stage craft.” I found it to be annoying. It distracted my attention from what was actually being said. What was it?

Senator Obama was diligently writing notes every time that Senator Clinton spoke – at least during the first 45 minute segment. Why was he doing this?  Surely he had prepared his remarks and rebuttals ahead of time. At this point in the campaign, he had to have heard Senator Clinton’s arguments, stump speeches and 9-point plans ad nauseum. Very little new ground was being broken during the debate. So why was he so preoccupied with his note taking?

It’s simple really! The answer is, it was “staged!” Barack Obama wanted to avoid two things:

  1. Looking directly at Hillary Clinton as she spoke – I felt that his note-taking distracted my attention from her words.
  2. Reacting physically to her comments – he did not wish to convey his agreement with, surprise at or anger about any of her comments. His body language probably would have conveyed defensiveness and weakness had he not kept himself busy scribbling his notes as his opponent spoke.

Was this effective? Perhaps. Several professional observers have commented on Obama’s unconscious physical reactions when he is criticized. He winces noticeably. He tends to withdraw. He looks pained. He looks less than confident.

But the good news is… at least he stopped “raising his hand” asking permission from the moderator to speak! For that reason alone, the diligent note taking was an improvement.

Why does body language matter? Here’s why: Continue reading “Take Note!” »

Defining Moments

“The Chinese symbol for adversity contains a symbol for opportunity. Therefore, adversity brings opportunity.”

– Anonymous

How do you rebound after 10 straight losses? Is it possible? Theoretically, yes.  Is it easy? Of course not. How do you do it? Stay in the game long enough to find your opportunity – and then seize the moment!

No doubt about it – Sen. Hillary Clinton’s campaign is on a losing streak. You can not “spin away” 10 consecutive losses. You can not discount the outcome of some state elections  as “not that important.” A caucus or a primary? It doesn’t matter. A loss is still a loss.

But there is always tomorrow. Another opportunity. A chance to gain a foot-hold. A chance to debate. A chance to turn her ship around. A chance to turn adversity into opportunity.

All eyes will be on Austin, TX – the scene of the next Democratic Party Debate.

More precisely, the eyes of the camera will be focused on the eyes, the hands, the posture of the candidates. It is my opinion that the outcome of tomorrow’s debate will be determined more by style than substance. And specifically, I predict that the outcome will be determined by how Senators Clinton and Obama master their body language during the debate.

The audience will be “listening with their eyes.”

We will not require a political analyst to tell us who won the debate. We can throw away the scorecard that tallies points scored on policy matters. The only points that matter will be how the candidates react to each other. Non-verbal reactions to each other.

We will “listen with our eyes.” We will determine the winner based upon what we “hear with our eyes.”

My advice to Senators Clinton and Obama: Spend more time preparing your non-verbal communications than in polishing your 9-point policy positions. The outcome of this debate will be determined by what the audience sees!

This has been the case – at least since the first televised Presidential Debate in 1960 between Kennedy and Nixon. The outcome was determined by a “close shave.”Future President Kennedy came across as a tanned, vigorous, confident leader. Then Vice President Nixon appeared to be hiding behind his “5 o’clock Shadow.”

Who can forget these images? Moments when non-verbal communication decided the outcome of the debate: Continue reading “Defining Moments” »

How to Become an Excellent Public Speaker

I received a link to the Business Week Online Small Business web page in my email this morning – I subscribe to both the magazine and the email newsletters.  The headline that caught my eye was “How Cisco’s CEO Works the Crowd.”  The story was written by Carmine Gallo who has extensively analyzed what makes Cisco CEO John Chambers such an effective communicator in his book “10 Simple Secrets of the World’s Greatest Business Communicators.”

If you are serious about improving your business communications skills, buy the book.  If you don’t have the time – or want a quick course in effective communications, ready today’s article from Business Week Online Small Business.

John Chambers is by any measurement one of the Top 5 Business communicators alive today.  Take any opportunity you can get to see him “in action.” – not just on stage.  Watch – and tape – him when he is giving a press conference, speaking to analysts, etc.  Study what makes him so effective.  Doing so will help  you to improve your communications skills immediately.

Use these points from today’s article in Business Week Online to guide your study of John Chambers:

1) Sell the benefit

2) Tell stories

3) Make preparation a part of your routine

4) Use confident body language

5) Overcome personal challenges

I believe that we teach by example.  By that precept, John Chambers is an excellent teacher.  And Carmine Gallo has done an excellent job in identifying the concepts that John Chambers teaches us – to be more effective business communicators.