What Do I Do With My Arms in a Presentation?

Posted On: June 7, 2013

Who are some of the public speakers or presenters you like the best? Well, let’s turn that around – who do you not like, or who puts you to sleep?  

Many of us remember our teachers or college professors. It’s a hard job standing up in front of large groups of young people everyday, who may not want to be there, and keep them interested! I can guess that one of the reasons the teacher or professor put you to sleep is because he was boring! If I asked you to describe “boring” in detail, what would you say? What makes a public speaker boring?  

In this case, let’s specifically look at someone’s non-verbal behavior. The presenter can have the best written speech, have spoken eloquently and even given plenty of visual aids, but what if that person did any of the following:

  • Stood stiff as a board
  • Never moved their arms
  • Did not walk around
  • Moved around too much
  • Was jumpy or jittery

While a lack of movement can cause us to feel sleepy or loose interest, too much movement can be distracting or irritating. A balance between the two is ideal.

Take note that it does take practice. I’d suggest practicing presentations in front of peers or with a video camera handy to get good feedback and adjust accordingly. While analyzing your performance, ask yourself, 

  • Do I look open or closed to the audience?
  • Do I look as if I am interested to be there?
  • Will the audience find me interesting or boring?
  • Do I have the traits of interesting speakers or boring speakers?
  • What are my strengths? How will I overcome my challenges?
Pictures of People Using Hands/Arms in a Presentation
Which pictures do you think are the best arm/hand positions? Why or why not? I’ll share my feedback at the end of the post.

Photo 1: Man in white Jacket

Photo 2: Woman presenting at a Flipchart

Photo 3: Presenting in a board room

Photo 4: Closed Arms in Front of Audience

Photo 5: A typical teacher’s position while presenting

Photo 6: Sitting While Presenting

There are natural ways to use your arms in a presentation, as shown in the video below. (This video is not made by Jennifer Kumar or Authentic Journeys.) 

Check out these videos that are on the topic of body language during presentations: 

  1. What should I do with my hands during a presentation?
  2. What to Do with Your Hands | Public Speaking
  3. What to do with your hands when you’re presenting!

Additionally, there is another video that is not really directly about body language during a presentation, but I particularly like the presentation style. Please watch this video and share your thoughts in the comments critiquing his arm movements.*

Analysis of Photos and Body Language 
Before reading our analysis and best practices, do consider the context of your presentation, the culture of your company and your national culture.

Photo 1: Man in white Jacket – Personally I like his arm placements when pointing to the board. His outer arm is along the side of his body not crossing it and blocking his body from the audience. Typically, when pointing at a board or something while presenting, try to use the arm that’s not on the side of your body facing the audience. 

Photo 2: Woman presenting at a Flipchart  – I would not recommend this arm placement for what I said above. Notice how the woman’s arm that is facing the audience is covering her body, it’s blocking her open position from the audience. It could communication a lack of open interaction. In some cases, when pointing with the arm facing the audience, we may cover our face, which is a worse presentation gaffe than what is happening in this picture. When we cover our face, we may lose eye contact with the audience, or they will stop paying attention to us.

Photo 3: Presenting in a board room – Similar analysis to the first photo. The first photo may be a little better. Can you guess why? Well in the first photo, the man’s angle to the board is a smaller angle than the woman’s angle. The main difference is the more the back of the presenter is to the wall (closer to 180 degrees), the more the body language is open to the crowd and the more eye contact the presenter can make with the audience.

Photo 4: Closed Arms in Front of Audience – The best part about the body placement of the presenter here is that his back is pretty much 180 degrees to the wall. But, what is the problem here? One may say the fact his arms are both in front of his body could show a closed off or nervous body position. We should not cross our arms in front of our body or have our arms too close in front of our body for too long. It is possible this photo was a still from the presentation, but is not typical of how this presenter was typically using his arms (they could have been more of an open position than this most of the rest of the presentation). 

Photo 5: A typical teacher’s position while presenting – Yes, I think you got the idea, this one IS the best position! Especially if you have to hold something with one arm and point with the other arm/hand. This takes time to get used to doing. It’s harder when you have to write on the board. We don’t want our back to the audience, or if we must have our back to the audience, it should be for the minimum amount of time possible. If we write on the board while presenting have the side of your body with the arm you write with closest to the wall so you can somehow write without covering your arm with your body or face. The trick is to not lose eye contact with the audience. It’s not always easy. But using PPT slides sometimes helps to avoid these problems. Or have the audience come up to write answers on the board when possible, to get more interactivity. 

Photo 6: Sitting While Presenting – What do you think about this presentation style? How would you think of being in a presentation by your manager or peer if they were sitting in a chair in front of the audience? Would it be considered formal or casual? Did you notice the man’s body language with his half-crossed legs? Would this be casual or formal? I think the answers to these questions depend on a mix of national, corporate and team culture as well as the context to the presentation. 

In the US context, I have seen teachers and managers present in this style. It was still considered formal. The only part I may see different is if it was a female colleague presenting, a female typically wouldn’t sit in that position. And, in fact, it may not always be considered good for a man to sit like this. But, men do it more as compared to women. 

If the screen behind that man was to have slides or images on it, we’d have to see if the shadow of his head would hinder a clear view of the images on that screen. If not, I have, in some cases, still have seen managers in the US present in this style – sitting with a PPT slide being shown behind them. As long as the person presenting knows what on the slide deck and has a way to change the slide without moving, it works well in some cases.

What do you think about all these tricks, tips and strategies? 

What kind of impression do you want to give in a presentation?

If you are having a hard time trying to figure out what you would ideally want to do, think of it from this perspective – what things do presenters do that make you more engaged or interested in their presentation from a body language perspective? Possibly you can practice implementing those strategies? 

If you are about to practice an online standing presentation or a face to face presentation in your office with your team and want feedback to improve your presentation (body language, interaction, presentation style, delivery, pronunciation, etc), get in touch with us. We can help you out! 

Related Posts: 

How to use a podium effectively
9 Tips to be a better Public Speaker 
How to speak slowly and clearly

Networked blogs link:
Photo credits: Photo 1: fauxels at pexels, Photos 2, 3: Christina Morillo at pexels, Photo 4:  祝 鹤槐 at Pexels, Photo 5: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels, Photo 6: Matheus Bertelli from Pexels
Original post date: 6/13, Updated 5/2020



Related Posts