Public speaking question: “What should I do with my arms?”

Question: “I know I’m not *supposed* to put my hands in my pockets or hold them behind my back when I give a speech, but most of the time I just don’t know what to do with them. What do you recommend?”   – Max, Toronto ON

Answer: How you move around depends on how you feel most comfortable. I’ve seen some speakers give a 30-minute speech with their hands by their sides the whole time, and some speakers give a presentation running around and waving their arms, and both looked perfectly appropriate because it fit that speaker’s style and personality.

Because you already know not to put your hands in your pockets or hold them behind your back, you’re on the right track to finding the answer that’s right for you. Here are a few other things to keep in mind: 
 
1. Do not hold anything in your hands, such as a pen, or your notes. I’ve seen many audiences click their pens, or wave notes around without ever looking at them. This is very distracting to an audience. The *only* thing that is acceptable to hold in your hands is a wireless presenter, relevant props, or items that you want to show your audience.
 
2. Do not put your hands on your hips or cross your arms. These actions may come across as condescending. 
 
3. Try not to point at the audience. Some people find this action aggressive. 
 
 
In the meantime, Max, here’s what I suggest. Practice your speech several times, standing up and moving around as if you were in front of your audience. Get used to what arm movements feel most comfortable for you. Practice in front of a mirror or with a video camera and watch yourself with a critical eye as you present. Or better yet, practice in front of friends or family and ask them to give you honest feedback about whether your body language seems natural, or if it’s distracting.  Based on the feedback you get, and how you feel most comfortable, it’s up to you to adjust your speaking style accordingly.

Do you have a question about public speaking? Post your question below and I’ll answer it in a future entry! 

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