Hari Patience-Davies shares a few poses to avoid while presenting in real life

It can be hard to know what to do with your arms. I remember how, as a child singing on stage, I longed to have the confidence of singers who seemed to reach out to the audience. I used to wrap my arms around myself, and it was only when one of those confident singers pulled me aside to say that in wrapping my arm around my own waist I was actually restricted oxygen to my lungs and therefore singing badly that I stopped.

If you don’t have something to hold – a microphone, a PowerPoint clicker, even a pen – you may find yourself at a loss at what to do with your hands…

But don’t cross your arms!

If you’re feeling nervous or uncomfortably put on the spot it’s easy to fall back on protective body language, and cross your arms or wrap one around your waist (like teenage me did while singing).

Like this:

or this:

Neither of these are good body language for presenting.

Crossing your arms can be seen as either insecure or aggressive depending on the surrounding body language. It’s not a pose that suggests you are open to working with others. It suggests isolation and protection.

Similarly, wrapping one arm around your waist is classic low power body language. It suggests timidity or nerves.

Neither of these poses are someone who is open to engaging with others – they are withdrawn, closed off. Exactly the wrong type of body language for presenting.

Another protectionist posture for arms is clasping them together in front of you:

This is another form of barrier body language – keeping your hands tightly clasped like this suggest you want to keep something (anything!) between you and your audience.

Again this is a low power stance, the arm are providing protection to the body, and the fingers tightly clasped. To me, it also feels beseeching – as if you are begging the audience to listen to you, which is a very low power move and suggests you don’t have confidence in the material you’re presenting.

A storytelling expert I saw speak once said that if you have to clasp your hands, aim for this sort of stance:

This is apparently read as a knowledgable stance – steeple-ing your fingers in this way reads as “I know what I’m talking about.”

I would however advise using this one sparingly – it is rather like the preferred post of Simpsons’ character Mr Burns. As such I personally associate it more with plotting and nefarious deeds – though I must admit that in that arena Mr Burns is clearly an expert.

When presenting, it’s always good to have open body language. You don’t need to keep your arms spread wide as if you want to hug everyone in the audience, but keeping them open and to the front is generally a good move.


Main image by Diva Plavalaguna on Pexels

Example images copyright Patience-Davies Consulting

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