Five Finger Speeches

  • September 11, 2019 by Andrew Watt, ACG, ALB, LD4, IP1, District 53 Program Quality Director
multiple hands raised in the air

In a five-to-seven minute speech, it’s important not to get lost in the flow of your speech by including extra detail — especially at the cost of your major talking points!

One of the skills I’ve cultivated in myself is using the fingers of my right hand to name and count off the major points of my speech.  I’m left-handed. If you’re right-handed, you might want to use your left hand.  In a seven-minute speech, there is just about time for five points or major themes, which means that Lucy from Peanuts was correct: five fingers alone can do very little, but when put together and directed, they can pack tremendous power into a little space.

You may have thought you were over counting on your fingers back in elementary school.  However, if you use your off-hand to count, (1) your thumb — your thickest finger — is at the top.  This becomes your  Main Idea. For me, this might be: “Today, I’d like to help you develop the five major points of a speech.” Some people can then count the three knuckles and the pad of the thumb as the details: a) use your hand as outlining tool, b) train yourself to talk through the ideas in order by touching your hand, c) this builds body language into your speech, and d) use the places on the hand to keep track of where you are in the speech.

Your next finger, sometimes called the (2) pointer finger, is the main supporting ideas. If the thumb represents your major idea, this finger represents several key points, represented by the three knuckles or chunks of the finger. For example, (a) you look more impressive speaking without notes, and yet (b) in an organized fashion where (c) you don’t lose your place.

In America, of course, the (3) middle finger is used for a vulgar gesture.  This represents the main objections to your speech topic, or criticisms. This is where you will offer counter-point, identifying objections to your idea, and evidence to discount, disqualify, or downplay those criticisms.

But the next finger, the so-called (4) ring finger, is where you help marry your ideas to your audience’s experience and practical needs. You have demonstrated that your ideas have both intellectual, and emotional connection to their personal experience and future needs.  For example, anyone might find the five-finger speaking method helpful, but they have to compare with their own favorite persuasive speech.

Wrap up with the (5) Pinky, which should contain a short practical tip or guidance to the audience on how to start using the speech’s topic for themselves.  When people shake hands, the pinky is the last finger to make the connection, but a handshake without a pinky feels limp or awkward.  Make the last connection count.

It only takes a few speeches before you’ll be talking with your hands, and without notes.