Toastmasters - Collected Wisdom

These are summaries of the collected wisdom of contributors to a Toastamsters newsgroup which operated between 1995 and 2008 and ToastmastersPrime, a Google group which commenced in 2008. This is not an official Toastmasters site, but is an edited collection of posts from the newsgroup and the Google group. These groups provide an unofficial means of communicating for an enthusiastic group of Toastmasters from throughout the world.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Gestures can become cliches, too!

In March 2007, Info started the thread The phone & the hand with:
A speaker holding up his hand as if it were a telephone when he says something like, "I called him on the phone the other day ...."? aggravates me no end. It's unnecessary and diminishes the content of the speech. It's amateurish. We know you're on the phone; it needs no gesturing to make the point.

Nigel asked:
Isn't that like saying you don't need to gesture something is large if you say it is large. You don't need to show a finger for the first point, second point, third point, etc since you've probably already told them. You don't have to gesture steering the car because you've told someone you're driving...

Info replied:
I might hold out my palms to the audience in a prepared speech on the third if I were trying to convey that a person did or said the same thing ridiculous three times. I might do that - and not always - to emphasize how excessive that person's behavior was.

To Betsy:
gestures are like fashion accessories. They look great on some people, and completely unnecessary (thus stupid) on others. I think it all comes down to how natural; the gesture feels with the rest of the speaker's body language. I naturally make phone gestures (and all sorts of gestures) even when I'm just talking with my neighbors, so I can get away with it. If you get a sense that someone is doing it artificially (like kids acting out a jump-rope song) then it looks bad.
Also, speakers should probably limit expressive gestures like this--1 or 2 phone gestures looks OK, but if you're doing something every few seconds it starts to look affected.

Joy thought "It's like a lot of other things. Not everyone agrees. Another area where this applies is the movement of the speaker. I am constitutionally unable to move around when I'm speaking, unless it is for a specific purpose - showing that I walked somewhere, for instance.

When I'm watching a speaker who does move around, it seems natural with some, and forced with others. A speaker who paces back and forth while speaking drives me up the wall. It looks ever worse when you see the speech on videotape.

Since describing a phone conversation often involves quotes from both people speaking, and sometimes narration, I find the gesture helpful. When telling both sides of the conversation, the "phone" is held to one ear for one person, and the other ear for the other person. That way, it is clear who is speaking.

Rich wondered "If you are starting a speech out with picking up the phone - you need a gesture there to indicate what you are doing. If the phone then just disappears mid conversation, it looks out of place, assuming you are continuing dialogue via the phone.

I'd rather have the gesture than a real phone prop.

John added "I suspect that gestures like the hand on the phone not only benefit the hearing impaired, but also those who have a visual learning preference - particularly when the phone conversation is between two people - one in the left ear, the other in the right.

The phone gesture can be an irritant if handled badly, but an enhancement to the presentation if integrated seamlessly.

I suspect that the reason Info noticed it was that it was not seamless.

On the other hand I agree that we should avoid cliches - both verbal and visual, and perhaps that gesture has become a visual cliche.

Colin quipped "As a wise person once said, cliches should be avoided like the plague!"

Gene knows a joke that benefits from having such a gesture. If I tell it at a Toastmasters meeting, I will use the gesture. I would not need to use the gesture, but it would improve the delivery, so I would use the gesture.

Rod saw it as horses for courses. Any gesture needs to be appropriate. That means that it must be suitable for the speaker, the speech, and the audience.

Depending on the occasion, I would be unlikely to use such a gesture to accompany a statement such as 'I called him on the phone', but I would almost certainly use it to illustrate that I was having a telephone conversation.

If it doesn't suit your style - don't use it. If you see it as unnecessary and amateurish - you're entitled to your opinion. It might also be that you don't notice it when it's done smoothly, naturally, and appropriately, only when it is used amateurishly.

Even then, Toastmasters is a learning laboratory - where we learn what works for us rather than to become clones of some mythical 'perfect' speaker. As for it being used by public speakers (however you define that term) - there's at least one who uses it - me!

Generally, and when used appropriately, gestures add a visual dimension to the auditory message, reinforcing it and aiding recall.

On the other hand, we all have our dislikes that reduce our ability to listen to the message. Mine are excessive umms, aahs, hesitancies, and an inability to get to the point. Learning to put these aside and listen effectively is a skill in its own right, and one that we teach in Toastmasters (the How to Listen Effectively module).


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