Public Speaking Problem: What Do I Do With My Arms?

Let Your Arms be Arms

There you are. A human being – perfectly comfortable in your skin. And then it happens:  a common public speaking problem. You step up to give your talk. And suddenly you are aware that you have these awkward appendages dangling from your shoulders. AND THERE IS NO PODIUM. You can’t rest your arms on the podium.  What do you do with them????Photo of Jenifer Alonzo sheepishly holding her hands in her pockets

Silly Photo of Jenifer Alonzo with her hands clasped in front of her

Shove your hands  in your pockets?⇒


⇐Grasp them in front of you? 

(NO! It looks like you’re afraid someone might body check you).

   Cross them in front of you? Photo of Jenifer Alonzo making a surly face with her arms crossed in front of her(NO! It looks like you hate your audience)


Photo of Jenifer Alonzo with her hands awkwardly clasped behind her.


Clasp them behind you?

(NO! It looks like … well weird …. This isn’t at ease….)






Stressed out academic trying to get a job on the tenure track?



Photo of Jenifer Alonzo letting her arms be arms, a natural posture when giving a presentation.

The solution is super-simple and super hard:

Let your arms be arms.


Like this.





Photo of Jenifer Alonzo demonstrating how it feels when you don't know what to do with your arms during a presentation.

I know it feels like this: 






But that isn’t how it looks from the outside.

From the outside you look like a confident scientist with nothing to hide.
This week’s experiment:  start watching people. Notice what they do with their hands and arms and what they are communicating when they can’t let their arms be arms. Notice actors in TV and Movies. What do they do with their arms when they are “just talking?” Experiment with letting your arms just be arms and see what happens.

Report your conclusions in the comments below!



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One thought on “Public Speaking Problem: What Do I Do With My Arms?

  1. We often have a pointer (old fashioned or laser) in hand during a presentation and I find that gives me something to “do”, at least with one arm.

    I’ve sometimes found that simply holding a pen or pencil (am I taking notes during my own presentation?) gives me “something to do” with a hand, and by extension, an arm.

    Jerks at Work: For those interested in reading a book about this, I recommend Robert Suttons’s “The No Asshole Rule”. I hesitated some time before opening the book, perhaps because a former student sent it to me and I was consumed with curiosity as to why. The subtitle is a bit less off-putting: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t … This is a book worth reading.

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