The Hand Jive

hand jive, public speakingI don’t talk with my hands.

Why should I? I’m a writer and a lover of words. No hand expressions are needed if the words are right when talking about writing.

Oh, how wrong I am.

In the past few months I’ve been invited to libraries and bookstores to speak about my writing and my books.

I have no problem with talking about my passion. Creating characters through the creative spirit is an easy subject for me to wax poetic. Out loud.

Yeah, right.

Turns out that writing about my passion is much easier than talking about it to a group of strangers (or worse, friends).

What if I can’t express myself well enough?

What if those who attend my presentations expect an answer to HOW TO WRITE A SUCCESSFUL BOOK?

(Answer: there is no answer…)

What if my voice doesn’t project, or it shakes, or I forget every bon mot that’s within my soul?

What if I’m – gasp – boring?writing a book, book presentaiton, speaking at a library

These are just a few of the inconsequential thoughts that race through me as I stand behind the podium a few weeks ago at a California library. The title of my presentation: The Journey of a Bird’s Tail…and Tale: Publishing a Children’s Picture Book.

Attendees are promised that:

“Pamela Wight will reveal her long journey, bird by bird, in making her dream come true. In her presentation, she shares her tale of writing her children’s book; finding an illustrator; allowing the story to simmer for way too long; and then the circuitous, rather serendipitous, journey to publication.”

The library’s Founder’s Room is packed. I should be pleased.

I’m horrified.

This is the library of the town where I lived for 20 years while raising my family, cultivating my craft of writing, and teaching creative writing classes to like-minded souls.

This is the library where now sit many of those writing souls. But also, where now sit long-time friends who have never read any of my books nor asked me a whit over the years of what the heck I actually do when I’m not at my “day job.”

This is the library where my son first got in trouble for running through the aisles chasing his 4-year-old sister, and where he now sits in the back with a nervous grin on his face, wondering what the heck his mother is going to say in front of this disparate group of people, some of whom he’s known since he was a toddler.

book presentation, Birds of Paradise, illustrated children's bookOnce I begin, the fear recedes, and my words rev up as I speak passionately about what happens when we let go of our thinking mind and write with abandon.

The faces in front of me nod and encourage me with smiles, and I grow more self-assured. Then, finally, I forget myself entirely, and just let the words stream forth.

Success! The room glows by the time I’m finished with heartfelt questions and open wallets as attendees buy copies of Birds of Paradise.

The next day, I receive a text with some videos of my presentation.

Who IS that woman? The hand jiving going on is almost as good as Olivia Newton John’s.

But I don’t talk with my hands.

My words are all I need . . . right?

110 thoughts on “The Hand Jive

  1. Excellent presentation. You look very comfortable in front of the group. I do think I get more nervous in front of people I know than strangers. Not sure why. The hand gestures make for a much more animated talk. Well done. The more you do, the more comfortable you will be. I have a few coming up in August/September back in Canada. Wish me luck.

  2. Great job, great post! And you are not alone in talking with your hands!! That is very much me as well.
    We are just adding more emphasis to our words, right? 🙂

  3. Love the comparison of the hand jiving. I think talking with one’s hands adds yet another dimension to the presentation.

    Wow Pamela you are an absolute natural up there… certainly looks like it comes easily. In my own experience public speaking is somewhat similar to writing in that sometimes it’s the initiation of the thing that’s a challenge but once you get started, things start to flow!

    Congratulations on a full room, sales, the book, the whole shebang! Well done! Impressive!


    • Many thanks for the kudos, Peta. Fortunately I try not to think ahead too much when I accept an invitation to do these presentations. Because definitely it’s the anxious anticipation beforehand that’s the worst. Once we start talking about our passion, we loosen up, right? 👀🗣

  4. Congratulations, Pam, on book, and on your presentation before a packed room! It looks like you did a great job, and it was great to hear your voice. I didn’t remember you had lived in California–I only remember our Pitman-Boston connection. 🙂
    You made me laugh with your hand jive comments. I’m not a fan of “Grease,” but you definitely are a hand-jive master. 🙂 I think interesting speakers do use their hands, too.

  5. Loved seeing the video of you at Tiburon Library! Just last week we ordered The Wrinkle in Time for both the YA and SciFi sections of the bookstore. Timeless book! I am seeing a Halloween themed event in our future! Movie comes out next March. Hand usage was terrific, btw.

  6. You make me laugh. I didn’t know what the Hand Jive was because {lowers voice to a whisper} I’ve never seen Grease.

    But I think you did a wonderful job! And you had the room in the palm of your jiving hand. I think the most fascinating people use their whole bodies to talk–wouldn’t it be boring if they didn’t?!

    Congratulations on a great presentation. I wish I had been there.

  7. Our image of our self is not always what we think, is it? How nice of that person to send you the video! And show you just how natural and at home you look.
    You are a hoot, Pam. Hand jive…shakes head, laughing…

    • I need to thank, again, my friend who recorded part of my presentation and I didn’t even know it. When she sent me the text with the video I was amazed. Reminded me of the time when I was getting my teacher certification many years ago, and our professor insisted on taping us so we could see what we look like to the students who would be listening to our every word. As you say, it is eye-opening. 👀 😆

  8. I smiled at the video … I’m a hand talker. Unless I’ve meticulously prepared what I’m going to say, the words just don’t come to me when I beckon them and the hands are needed for either emphasis or distraction purposes. I’ve never decided which 🙂

    Congratulations on getting out and letting your voice be heard. I’m SURE you would never be {gasp} boring! 🙂
    The very telling line in here was “long-time friends who have never read any of my books nor asked me a whit over the years of what the heck I actually do when I’m not at my “day job.” Why is that anyway?!! I think it’s a problem that many of us have – it’s sad.
    Even worse, I wonder how many people think of that about me?

    • I’ve thought about this a lot, Joanne, and about your comment too. Those who aren’t writers (and who feel that they ‘can’t’ write) are perhaps intimidated by those of us who do. Therefore, they don’t ask about our writing – or about our stories or what we do. Sort of how I am with my son and his ‘financing’ job. I understand absolutely nothing when he tries to explain it to me. Haha. So that’s the optimistic answer. I’ve also felt that some just dismiss what I do as unimportant; after all, I don’t make a lot of money with my writing career. For many, it’s dollars that count.

      • You make good points, Pam. When I’m feeling ‘charitable’, I think that people don’t have any context under which to frame even basis questions about stuff that bears little relationship to their world. I consider myself and how much more engaged I am in asking questions and making meaningful comments when I understand the topic.

        … but then when I’m not feeling charitable, I just think people can be self-absorbed jerks 😉

  9. So… I’m not the only one!!! LOL! I was a member of Toastmastes once upon a time and learned a lot about giving speeches that ended up helping when I took an actual speech class. One of the hardest things to do when giving a “formal speech” is NOT use your hands. It was a very difficult thing for me to do and I had to watch myself on video after each one of my speeches in class.. ugh! What do you do with your hands??? I learned to keep them on the podium! HA HA! Well.. I try at least. I am extremely animated when I talk to friends or anyone else when I am telling a story. I have dramatic facial expressions also. I get “carried away” as my husband puts it. I thought you did great and you have a lovely voice that is easy to listen to. I’m sure you kept your audience enthralled! 😉 ❤

    • The worse part is that I used to (gently) make fun of my guy (Italian) for using his hands so much when he talks. Oh, boy, have I gotten my comeuppance. My dad always wanted me to go to a Toastmasters class (he attended when he started ‘moving up’ in the company he worked for and thought it helped him tremendously). I never did, but I used to watch him practice his speeches, and I learned a lot from him. But I don’t think he ever used his hands. I like your ‘keep your hand on the podium’ trick. But on the other hand, I think being animated is a GOOD thing …. don’t you? 🙂

      P.S. I think you’re perfect for a Speech Communications degree….<3

      • Another thing I learned in Toastmasters was using uh, uhm, you know, and etc. They would keep count how many times you said it! Now I am acutely aware and it drives me crazy when I hear people say that 50,000 times! I don’t think you did it much at all. But that was because you were prepared and knew your subject very well!! Key part! Preparation!! And thanks! I think I will like Speech. I have 2 speech classes and a management class this fall. I will either love it or hate it by December! 😉

  10. I was a Toastmaster for many years. One year I had won the regional speech contest and one of the execs where I worked asked me to give my speech before his group. I had given it many times on the way to winning the contest so I wasn’t concerned. It was a humorous speech on the differences between men and women. At the end they started to pepper me with questions on how to give a speech and all those technicalities rather than the topic itself. Wasn’t prepared for that but it went well. Be prepared for anything was my new motto.

    • Wow! You are a true ToastMaster. I’m very impressed, and I bet I could learn a lot from you. Let me know if you give any speeches my way! You should write a blog post about the differences between men and women-I think a lot of us would really enjoy that. 😂

      • The speech was in the humorous category so the first area I tackled was the shower shelves. My husband has 2 things there — shampoo and bar soap. Right now I have 3 different shampoos, 2 conditioners, liquid body soap and a special face soap. Then I touched on different areas equally crazy. I always recommend joining a Toastmasters group if you want to get better at public speaking. You participate at your own rate and it’s a very supportive environment to practice.

  11. Looking good, Joan! Obviously, the audience is engaged, and you look comfortable. It’s often surprising to hear or see ourselves on audio/video recordings–how interesting that we don’t really know what others see/observe in us until we step outside of ourselves and look back!

    This illustrates why oral communication is so very different from written. We’re so accustomed to all the nuances of oral communication–the myriad facial and body gestures, the volume, tone, and pitch of voice, all of which show our meaning in ways that words on a page never can. It’s also why, for me, audio transcripts are so lacking. The words just don’t do enough to convey the speaker’s mind, emotions, and attitude.

    Congratulations on your successful appearance. A room full of people is not guaranteed to authors these days!

    • Thanks so much for your comments, Tracy. For me, I feel like I can express myself so much better in words than in speech. But it’s really good practice to talk about our writing practice and passion once in a while…

  12. Great post and you look and sound confident and interesting in your presentation. I use my hands when I am giving a talk. My dad once said if my hands were cut off I wouldn’t be able to talk!

    • Well, Mary, I’m thinking of Hawaiian dancers and how expressive they are with their hands, and how their hands tell a story. So why shouldn’t it be the same when we do some public speaking!? 😏

  13. Now I know what I do is called “hand jiving” when I speak to people or any group. It’s always been natural to me and it certainly looked good on you! Your presentation was super and I only wished I was there too, but the video captured it all. Congratulations on your picture book and here’s to many, many more! 🙂

    • Your lovely comment made me smile. All day. Yes, I made up the idea that when we use our hands while talking we should call it the hand jive-but why not? Perhaps a good speech is one in which we use expression in our words, our face, and our hands! Well, it’s not like I have any choice. I’m sure that if I glued my hands on the podium, the podium would have moved along with my words. 😜

  14. I just read a children’s book about a boy with social anxiety. I laughed out loud at all of your What ifs… They were similar to his. And the advice to the kid, “no one notices.”
    Your presentation looked lovely and your hand gestures appropriate as you expressed yourself. You looked very natural. I’m glad you had a good time and I’m sure you will enjoy each book event you attend. Congratulations on your picture book release — and the many more that follow.

    • I am embracing your words of encouragement, Patricia. Yes I think one of the best things we can realize when we’re nervous about giving a talk, is that everyone in the audience is really worried about their own problems and insecurities, so we should just relax and talk away.
      That said, I have not given any other presentations since this one and I haven’t taken steps to offer more yet. I really need to do that, as you know we authors need to get ourselves out there. But I’m still getting over the last one. 😳

  15. I’ve just published a book too—my first, under a pen name. The invitations to speak are not frequent. I’ve learned that I not only talk with my hands, I sway back and forth. I do try not to swallow my words. I’m still amazed when anyone buys the book, but they are not only liking it, they’re buying more as gifts and recommending it to their book clubs. It sure takes a long time though!

    • Huge congratulations, Paula. Could you put a link here to your book? I know you have been working long and hard on this, and that when you do give presentations or talks, your audience will be enthralled. Unfortunately, people don’t naturally come to us authors and ask us to give a talk about our books. We have to stomp the grounds and beg them to listen to us! Not easy to do. But I must admit, quite worthwhile.

  16. It is natural to move our hands when we speak and you are looking awesome, confident and at ease with your words, which seem to flow… Pam you possess excellent speaking skills.
    This reminds me of one of our professors who would move so much that we would be so distracted by his movements that by the end of the lecture, we had no idea what he talked about! 🙂

    • First I blushed at your compliments, Balroop. Thank you thank you thank you. I will surround myself with these words the next time I’m shaking before a presentation.
      Secondly, I laughed out loud about the professor who spoke so energetically with his body that he confused the students. You kind of wonder how he got to be a professor!

  17. How boring would it be if you stood there poker stiff and only moved your lips?! You did great. I think taking with hands, is only a small part of the whole thing when we communicate. Our whole bodies, posture and poise comes into play when we communicate. So much more interesting to “be yourself.” Good job!

    • You are so right, Anneli. If we didn’t move and show some expression perhaps our listeners would assume that what we had to say was boring. The fact is, I don’t think I have a choice. My hands are going to do what they want to do and if I try to think about them too much I’m sure my words would be blocked. As you say quite wisely, we just have to be ourselves up there. XO

  18. Isn’t it funny to see ourselves talking. Ack! I don’t mind doing it, but I don’t want to watch myself! You did great. And what a treat to fill a room. I’m so proud of you! ❤ ❤ Hugs.

    • Your words just sent me a’glowing. Thank you, because I feel that you really know how hard it was for me to put myself out there. And then to share it with all of you on my blog! But we authors need to be proud of our work-all of us are or we wouldn’t be writing-and then strong enough to share it in anyway we can. ❤️

    • I love your comment on Twitter, Bette. Yes, it’s important that we writers ‘share’ our insecurities and show each other the way to jump over the ‘nervous nelly’ hurdle and just go out there and yell at the top of our voice: I’M A WRITER. READ MY BOOK! 🙂 (And perhaps use some hand jiving along with the voice.) 🙂

  19. A writer’s dream – a packed house – and open wallets!

    Along with a DVD of Anne of Green Gables, your book Birds of Paradise is packed in a gift bag ready for Jenna. She’s twelve soon and a gifted artist and story lover. I see great potential for her as an illustrator. You are part of the inspiration, Pam.


    • I am beyond honored that my book is included in the loving gift bag for Jenna. I think she’ll appreciate the art work in Birds of Paradise. The artist, Shelley Steinle, creates her illustrations the “old-fashioned” way – she does not use computer technology to “help” it along. She figures she spent over 300 hours on Bert and Bessie, and she loved every minute. If Jenna would ever like to contact Shelley and ask her about her process or any other art questions, let me know and I’ll connect the two via e-mail. ❤

    • Looking at the recording of my talk (without sound), I would guess I’m sharing a story of fantasy and love. Which isn’t too far from the truth! 🙂 Thanks so much Jennifer. xo

    • I think I’ve soaked in the way Hawaiian women dance with expressive hands, David. Seriously. Every year I’m lucky enough to visit Kauai, and I’m enthralled with the way the dancers’ hands tell a story. I never knew I did that too, but secret recordings can open our eyes! 🙂 Thanks so much for tweeting my hand jiving, You are a true gentleman. xoxoxowarmsummerhugxoxoxo

  20. The hand jiving adds something very special to the presentation! I always thinks it’s more nerve-wracking doing a presentation to people you know, but you seem confident and entertaining, well done 🙂

    • I had given a similar presentation to two ‘unknown’ groups in New England, Andrea, and felt none of the high anxiety I experienced before I spoke to this CA library room filled with people who KNEW me. So much harder, Don’t know why – you’d think we’d know they’re on ‘our side’ and just want us to succeed. But still….what if we flopped? ;-0

  21. Congratulations on your wonderful presentation, Pam. I agree with your other readers–your hand gestures add positively — very warm and sincere!

    • Thanks for your kind words, Donna. I never knew about my hand jiving, and now I don’t think I’d ever want to talk another way. If my words don’t catch a listener’s interest, I think perhaps my jiving hands will. 🙂 xo

  22. My sons don’t really talk a lot with their hands and my husband never does. I know I do and I see my granddaughter has developed the habit, as well. You gave a wonderful presentation, Pam, and you didn’t give off any nervous vibes. Congrats.

    • Thanks, Ann. Getting over that presentation nearly killed ME. 🙂 On the other hand, I’ve just sent out an e-mail to some other local libraries to see if they’d like me to give my presentation. That’s either called courage or stupidity. :-0

    • Ohh, I LOVE this clip!!! Thanks so much for including it here. I just showed it to my guy, and he remembers this much more than I do (he’s, ahem, older than me). The tune is so catchy and yes, this must be the original hand jive (although there seems to me to be more foot work than hand work in this dance). I’ll be singing this song alllll day. 🙂

    • Ha ha. I’m married to an Italian and always used to make fun of him (in a nice wifely way, of course) in the say he talks with his hands. Well, the joke’s on ME now. 🙂

  23. I very much enjoyed this posit and it shows that you are more human with hand movements rather than just standing there like a robot. I think your presentation was quite successful and you can be proud of your ability to speak with enthusiasm and warmth. I think your personality helps sell books and this one should be a winner for you, Pamela.

    • Thank you for the kudos! My personality was shaking up there, but I think the hand jiving settled me down a bit. You’re so right, though. Who needs a robot up there talking about writing and birds and books? That would be way too boring. xo

  24. Great post Pam. It’s uncanny how many writers have the fear of public speaking, including myself. I’m a gabber. I talk to everyone and anyone and voice my opinions strongly, yet the thought of standing in front of a group of people speaking sounds paralyzing. Good for you. And loved the video, so great hearing you speak, and had a chuckle about the hand movements, only because you talked about it. I don’t imagine I”d be much different as I love to talk with my hands too. LOL. ❤

    • With all of your great publications, Debby, you really should think about giving some presentations. If we didn’t live a country away, I’d come! My dad used to practice his public speaking in the dining room, alone; I’d hide underneath the table and watch him. Learned a lot. When he finally discovered me, he gave me his secret. He pretended the audience was a roomful of monkeys sitting in their seats wearing only underwear. Hmmm. That doesn’t quite do it for me. I think you and I are best if we just talk as if we’re sitting at the kitchen table with friends. xo

      • Thanks Pam. Exactly! I”m great in a group of friends leading conversation. In fact many readers of my books comment they feel like they’re sitting with me over coffee listening to my stories. I’m so happy to connect like that. And oh yes, the old underwear visual. That’s been said by many a practicing public speaker. 🙂 ❤

  25. I talk with my hands, too. I’m very expressive that way, so I like to think of it as showing, not telling. 😉

    Congrats on haivng a successful turnout! I have read blogs from authors who have prepared to give talks only to have a low turnout. I can’t imagine the discouragement. Your town supports you–what a stupendous feeling!

  26. Well done Pamela!! It’s a huge thing to speak to an audience like that, I think you did a marvellous job! I see what you mean about the hand jiving!! But only at the beginning, it looks fine as you progress. It’s an uncomfortable experience watching ourselves, I know I’d be uncomfortable about that. But we shouldn’t really, because nobody else notices the things we do in the same way. We are often our worst critics. It’s very nice to see and hear you!! I hope you have a great success with your beautiful book… I’m certain you will! 🙂

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