Weekly Thought – December 15, 2020
Fred’s reputation as a nationally-recognized speaker began at an early age. Raised in the home of a fiery Southern Baptist preacher he studied the styles of many. His love of communication lasted throughout his lifetime. Men and women came to learn from him, even until the last days of his life. This week’s selection is a discussion of speaking from a very specific aspect – gesturing. As you watch presentations, think about Fred’s observations.
Gestures have a vocabulary all their own. The Spanish painter Goya charged as much to paint just the hands as he did a face because most artists will tell you they are the most difficult part of the body to capture.
Delsarte studied how hands show emotion. He got so good he could sit in a park and tell whether a baby was held by a nanny, or the mother, just by the intensity of the hands. I, too, am interested in what hands say. When I watch a speaker, I focus on the hands. I want to see if the gestures are spontaneous or programmed. I want to see whether the spontaneous gestures are repetitious or varied. My friend Haddon Robinson has one of the finest pairs of hands I know. I have tried to count the different formations his hands make, and the number gets astronomical. Yet they’re absolutely spontaneous, and they’re in harmony with what he’s saying and with the sound of his voice. He has a large vocabulary of words and gestures.
One of our former presidents could say something like “You know I love you,” but he would make a hacking gesture. Some psychiatrist friends who studied his gestures told me, “His hands tell you how much he really loves you.” You don’t use a hacking motion with a genuine expression of love.
Great conductors, for example, will often set aside the baton because they can communicate more clearly with their hands. The orchestra can read the hands more readily than the baton which can give the tempo, but not the nuance.
Many people telegraph what they are going to say with their hands. They’ll let you know what’s coming before they actually say it. The hands come alive before the voice does. The audience detects this even if unaware of what is being communicated.
The pointed finger rarely creates a friendly atmosphere. We think of the teacher who points before reprimanding.
In my experience I have found people who do not have effective gestures, but are willing to learn. Too many people hinder themselves because they are afraid to try. Any time we want to develop new skills we must start by giving ourselves permission to try (and possibly fail at first). With gestures the key is simply to make sure they are spontaneous, representing both the voice and the mind. A good speaker gives himself/herself permission to learn how to vary them to increase effective expression.
Here is an example: If you are going to be delivering a climactic statement, do not get intense too soon. It’s better to relax your body and back away about a half step from the audience. Then just before you come to that statement step toward the audience and straighten up. That way your body, as well as your voice projects the message.
The eyes are critical in speaking… almost as important as the voice. There is a temptation to zero in on a few attentive people in the front of the room. Speakers often overcome their insecurity and nervousness by addressing their remarks to this group. This is an error. I tell young speakers to think of the farmer who is feeding the chickens… “You have to throw the corn wide enough for everyone to get some.”
Gestures lend emphasis and color to words. Your emotions overflow into your gestures and become one of the most powerful parts of your body language. What you say is either enhanced or diminished by your repertoire of gestures, so it is a good place to focus if you want to develop your speaking skills.
This week carefully consider: 1) How conscious am I of a speaker’s gestures? 2) What am I doing to develop my own vocabulary of gestures? 3) When have I sent a mixed message because my words and my gestures were not in sync?
Words of Wisdom: “With gestures the key is simply to make sure they are spontaneous, representing both the voice and the mind.”
Wisdom from the Word: “A person will be satisfied with good from the fruit of his words, and the work of his hands will be rendered to him.” Proverbs 12:14 NET Bible)