Gesture: Organic and Deliberate
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A lot has been covered in the last few installments, and fresh off our discussion on voicing and articulating our thoughts we’re ready to use what we’ve learned about breath, focus, orientation, occupying space, frame and stance to explain what the hands and the body need to do in order to fully and effectively communicate the desired message.
This was originally intended to be the last episode in Season One, but the plan has changed a little.
Instead of trying to cram all the information we want to deliver into one super long episode, we’re going to break it up into a few chunks.
So Part ten, Gesture, is going to be a few episodes long.
We’re finally ready to start in on how the hands work together with what we’ve learned so far.
To answer “what do I with my hands” we’ve got to stop thinking of the hands as an isolated communication system.
You can certainly find resources that provide arguments and suggestions for using one set of hand gestures over another, lists of powerful gestures to emulate, or weak gestures to avoid.
There are also great resources that show gestures that are culturally oriented and suggest gesture etiquette when cross culturally communicating.
Those kinds resources are valuable, but they deal with hand signals and expressions in the void.
They don’t provide much help for a person that doesn’t have a strong connection with, or is self conscious about, their movement to begin with.
It’s the ability to tie Gesture fluently into your interactions and to reveal the impulse of a gesture that we are interested in as strategic communicators.
What the hands are doing while we communicate is just one aspect of a more complex system, the hands extend what’s happening in the body.
To allow the hands to blossom in their ability to express and underscore the content, we need to strengthen the flow of movement and information between all elements of the system as a whole.
The question here needs to be about the larger relationship between the hands and the mind, breath and body.
That’s why I’ve provided the foundation through the first 9 episodes of this season, and we are going to revisit each one of them across our Gesture episodes to clarify the relationship.
Here are two categories of Gesture to think about:
Organic, and Deliberate.
Organic movement and gesture originate from the natural need or urge to physicalize while we are communicating out loud.
These Gestures are impulsive: They’re all the gestures and movements you incorporate in your normal everyday communication without thinking about it.
Organic Gesture supports meaning or expression without choreography, or preoccupation, or thought.
You may display very little organic gesture, or you may be all over the place with it.
Person to person and culture to culture organic gesture will vary widely.
We will return to Organic Gesture, but because Deliberate Gesture is more complex let’s secure an understanding of that first.
Deliberate Gesture is planned, thought out, or choreographed to create meaning, or make an impression.
We use it to emphasize something purposefully with an ultimate goal in mind.
There are two important aspects of Deliberate Gesture: Planning and Execution.
When planned poorly Deliberate Gesture can come off as tacked on.
When Executed poorly it can appear inauthentic, and can fail to get your point across.
But there is nothing wrong with deliberate use of Gesture as a practice.
It’s both useful and important for strong communication.
Successful use of Deliberate Gesture comes down to making decisions that support your goal by employing your breath, frame, and body in ways that make the execution possible.
In an arena like the theater often every move is calculated meticulously and practiced and repeated.
People in the legal and medical fields, HR, and sales also participate in planned or scripted situations as part of their day-to-day work life.
In fact all of us, no matter our profession, encounter frequent human interactions that involve planning an approach.
But outside that controlled bubble of the stage, good quality prep for both public and private communications involves learning how improvise responsibly and confidently within informed boundaries.
Deliberate Gesture will enhance and help guide your scripted and improvised content.
So what goes into effective planning for Deliberate Gesture?
First, Observe the gesture you habitually exhibit.
Are you well served by your habitual Organic Gesture? Do you find that your gestural impulses and patterns appropriately and clearly support your verbal content?
There are many many ways your Organic Gesture can manifest.
Some people may not feel comfortable with large gesture, and may exhibit tight close gestures that can be more difficult to detect and interpret.
You may be a person that moves their arms, hands, shoulders, neck, and eyebrows constantly while speaking in an animated manner.
You may be a person that easily and fluidly supports their speech with gesture already, but even if you are pretty close to where you want to be there is always room to deliberately craft and improve.
Which of your organic gestures express and support the meaning, tone, sentiment, and urgency across your range of communications?
Keep note of your most effective organic gestures, try and examine what about them feels natural in your body.
We will draw on that feeling in exercises to come.
Now let’s take a look at the areas you aren’t as pleased with, or which plain aren’t serving you at all.
In these areas we can teach our bodies new ways of moving and in doing so open up our possibilities beyond what is habitually recurring.
Really, practicing Deliberate Gesture is about crafting and instilling selected habits to replace those that don’t serve us.
This is not so much a process of mimicking certain specific gestures from a book or a chart, but more a physical exploration to help you find movement that fits your unique body and personality.
Some basic gesture vocabulary we will employ include rounded gesture and linear gesture.
Rounded Gesture moves through space in a circular motion.
It can make use of a causual, a curved or cupped hand, and is often suited for informal interaction or recounting a story or a progression of events.
At the same time, Rounded Gesture can also be seen as cavalier or off hand when combined with a dispassionate body.
You can image hands and arms that move in sweeps, flips. and loops varying from within the sphere of the hand and wrist to the full use of the arm span.
Rounded Gesture can feel loose and flowing.
Linear Gesture navigates through space using the vertical and horizontal axis, feels more joint-oriented and lends itself to being formal and directive.
Linear Gesture is much more angular and is conducive to shaping an idea physically with encapsulating rectangular motions.
It can also appear robotic and rigid and can come off as as intense if used with a charged body.
You may lean toward one or the other in your Organic Gesture, but these tools don’t need to work independently of one another, in fact they can complement each other quite well when used consciously alongside verbal content.
When you combine the use of both Rounded and Linear Gesture your communicative range is boundless.
Here’s an example of how to approach a strategic goal with these two tools:
I have a Client in the sciences who came to me with a problem.
Despite his command of subject matter, and his enthusiasm for his students, he wasn’t achieving the personal connection he wanted in the classroom.
True of so many of my university based clients, he has a personality type that is extremely rational and intellectual- he’s most comfortable with direct, fact based, communication.
His strong command of Linear Gesture serves him very well in a research based environment, he is very skilled in presenting a direct account of a process or event.
But his goal as a teacher was not to present his research as he would to a group of colleagues, it was to have a conversation about his subject with his students.
To create the learning environment he wanted for his students we needed to make some changes.
I worked with him to deliberately round his linear gestures as he spoke, something that at first felt unnatural to him.
We focused on letting our arms and hands fall forward in space in circular motion, to fold out ideas as we spoke them, instead of the more precise, staccato he was accustomed to.
As we practiced to achieve a natural feel to my client’s rounded Gesture, his direct point-by-point speaking style began to loosen up and stray from its more rigid track.
By softening his Linear Gesture, a chain of events fell into place that allowed him to lecture as a storyteller.
Choppy, short-and-to-the-point instructions became free flowing, lengthy descriptions, more palatable to a listening audience of 20 somethings.
Then we made the choice to soften his line focus in relation to his audience.
We achieved immediate results with a transition from his habitual full front to a quarter turn.
As I have mentioned over and over, all of our systems are connected to and are influenced by one another.
Important among those relationships is that the voice matches the body.
In his case, the softening of line focus and the change in stance and base
altered his cadence from curt and direct toward casual and relaxed.
The element of his voice that to students felt inflexible and unapproachable was able to maintain its confidence while becoming conversant and welcoming.
This made all the difference between feeling spoken at and spoken with.
By identifying the right time and the strategic reasons for making a change, we can alter not only our own behaviors, but our environment as well.
In his case, he wanted an interactive classroom, one in which students with questions or ideas wouldn't be afraid or feel out of place to interject during lecture.
The more open and relational he made his voice and body, the more we saw those characteristics mirrored in his audience as well.
He didn’t abandon his linear gesture, instead he made deliberate choices about when to use it, applying the most effective elements of his organic style to maintain structure and guide the progression of events in class, focusing on rounded gesture and a quarter turn to create the atmosphere he wanted and linear gesture and full front to maintain the boundaries of that atmosphere.
Becoming the teaching presence he wanted to be wasn’t really about his content, as so often is the case, it was about his delivery.
When the Gesture changed the rest fell into place.
This is the value of planning for an outcome with Deliberate Gesture.
Not to say there isn’t a challenge that must be risen to here.
The difficulty in making this kind of strategic change is that when you first alter a gestural habit your voice and content are briefly out of synch, just enough so that you might say “that doesn’t feel right” or “that’s not quite me.”
People will stop before they’ve even gotten started, telling me “this is hard” and “I don’t do it this way.”
If you can overcome and explore the initial discomfort you will find that without too much effort your chosen style of Gesture will exert a matching influence over your other systems.
The second half of this episode is about the execution of Deliberate Gesture.
We will be employing some physical gesture exercises that cover a wide variety of expression so that we can gain an experience of what the process of executing a planned gesture feels like.
We aren’t going to make any assumptions about what your personal organic way of gesturing looks like here- we’re going to try a lot of different motions, some may be well outside what you would normally use to express yourself- but maybe not!
Regardless of what feels “natural” to you, I want you to try all of the exercises I’m going to walk you through.
To start out, establish a basic stance with an anchored, balanced base.
Remember this is feet under knees under hips under shoulders.
Extend and stretch your arms out straight in front of your torso.
Now, draw those arms back, bending them at the elbows, and bring your hands to meet one another in front of you at about the same level as your bent elbows.
Your hands can rest together in a variety of manners, just make sure you choose a resting position that is easy to quickly depart from and return to.
Your palms can lay against one another, fingers laying flat; you can hold your palms facing fingertip to fingertip; or you can gently lace your fingers into one another.
Whichever position is more comfortable to you, we want to keep your hands tension-free, allowing energy and movement to flow freely out to the fingertips.
We want to avoid tightly clasping or wringing our hands, trapping energy flow.
This combination of a basic stance and accessible and available arms and hands gives us the platform to freely extend Gesture, and from here on out we’ll be calling it a “Ready Stance”
Now, assume your Ready stance, and orient your body full front.
Unlike some of the other episodes in which we learned and practiced without speaking, in order to practice gesture in this frame I need you to have in mind something that you want to communicate.
If you don’t have something you are specifically practicing or preparing for, allow me to suggest you choose something you are in command of and know fully.
We are going to take our topic and speak aloud as if we are teaching or explaining it to a person or an audience, if you can’t settle on an audience you can speak as if you are teaching me about your subject.
Your topic doesn’t have to be from your professional, academic or serious life experience, just something you know well.
For instance, when participating in this exercise my daughter chose to teach me about one of her recreational passions, dungeons and dragons.
Now pair your topic with a helpful directive thought, such as I am going to teach, I am going to inform, I am going to convince, I am going to explain, or even I am going to totally nerd out.
We are going to speak out loud for 20 seconds while incorporating a few instructions.
This first round we will accompany our speech with linear Gestures, operating on the vertical and horizontal, extending our gesture forward and to the sides into space.
Observe how this extension of arms and hands feels, we’re looking to experience a joint oriented feel to this type of gesture.
For many people, simply setting the arms and hands in a ready position will facilitate open energy and expression through the arms to the fingertips, but for some of you it may require a little more focus and concentration.
Don’t worry if that’s the case.
Right now I simply want you to practice and observe how using Deliberate Linear Gesture paired with a basic stance feels in a full front orientation.
Breathe through your mouth with your directive thought and begin speak out loud, purposefully using your gesture in linear motions as you communicate.
I’m going to stop talking now for 20 seconds as you practice.
Is this type of gesture familiar? Natural?
It may or may not be, this about arriving at a self assessment.
We think we know ourselves pretty well, and in some ways maybe we do, but making a few clear determinations about our personal inclinations, and applying language to them, will help us use the vocabulary and skills we’re learning to the greatest effect.
Do your hands begin to extend from the ready stance or do you hold them tight in this position?
If you find that the hands and arms are locked in the ready but resting position, concentrate on moving and inviting the hands to extend forward with your words.
Keeping your stance and orientation, let’s now shift our gesture to rounded gestural patterns, circular motions that are more flowing.
Improvise for 20 seconds as before, and you can follow the same line of thought as last time, even use the same words if you’d like.
We’re looking for a comparison of the physical experience.
Again, is this pattern of gesture more or less familiar or natural to you than the linear pattern?
Is it difficult to fully extend into the space in front of you with rounded gesture from the ready stance?
Did Rounded or Linear Gesture require more of your attention to execute than the other?
If neither felt natural or familiar to you, or if both took a great deal of concentration to pair with your words, don’t worry- just practice along with us to build some more gestural awareness.
Now repeat the exercise, but this time shift your orientation to a quarter turn and maintain your ready stance.
Pay attention to how a shift in your line focus and orientation can change the way it feels to execute rounded and linear gesture.
Just Like they did for my Client we referenced before the break, circular patterns in your gesture will create a more relational feel and can also influence the way you speak.
You will likely find this effect facilitated and amplified by a quarter turn.
Looser, flowing, rounded movements can free up the tongue and the mind, allowing a more dynamic excitement into the voice and opening the door for more creative expression and relationship building.
But if you need to convey formality, authority, or a more rational approach to expressing an idea rounded Gesture isn’t going to lend it’s self as well.
For that you want an angular approach.
Linear gesture tends to lend a more concrete underscore to formal content, stating facts, or giving instructions.
It is likely that full front will be the orientation in which linear gesture flows more naturally for you.
Using both hands you can box an idea in the air, and place spoken words in space in front of you as you outline a list or a plan.
How much extension of the body you put into a gesture is going to determine how overt or subtle, and how loudly or softly an action is perceived.
But remember, these Gesture patterns by no means are assigned to one orientation or another.
A sharp Linear Gesture in the midst of Rounded Gestures in a story told in quarter turn can emphasis and drive home a point, whereas a round sweeping gesture can relieve and break the tension of a more serious full front discussion that is supported by linear gesture.
We’ll speak for 40 seconds this time, begin with linear gesture, same content, and I’ll indicate when to shift into rounded gesture at about the twenty second mark.
Take some of your own time to play with other orientations and gesture pattern combinations, switching fluidly from one to another to gain a wider range of feeling.
It may seem odd that we’re only talking about two Gesture patterns here, but when combined with all of our other physical systems; orientation, frame, stance, plane, horizontal, and level the range of expression and combinations are immense.
Make sure to keep in mind the vocabulary we have assigned to these physical positions and movements as you’re doing so.
Let’s talk about ranges of extension.
It’s important to take note of the space around us that we can gesture in.
Explore space in full extension by stretching arms out in front of you with hands extended out.
Stretch the arms to the side into a full body T position.
Now, come back to center.
Gauge what is a halfway mark from the full extension to your torso.
Now, imagine that you have a tennis ball under your armpits and bring the arms back to that midway place in space between full extension and the torso.
We don’t want our arms clamped in place, we want them loose and available to movement, with a feeling of free space.
Bend the elbows and find a resting place for you hands, energized, as previously described.
This time as you speak, explore gesturing from this midway place out to full extension to orient the gesture, in the space to the front and sides in full extension and then back to the resting place.
Many times clients feel like this is an exaggeration of movement and when I ask them to naturalize the movement it is always curious to me that more often than not, this new use of space is maintained.
When we practice fully extending our arms and sending the energy through our fingertips, generally we can begin to sense that the gesture is originating from our whole body, especially from the back.
Full extension naturally begins to employ more of the body, not just the arms and hands.
Since we are talking here about extension and energy flow through the hands and fingertips, another exercise that I frequently assign is to practice sending energy through the fingertips in bursts.
Make your hands into fists, and then open them as wide as you can, stretching the fingers out into space as much as possible.
We’re going to call this a star hand.
Repeat this motion a few times in a row so that it mimics a bursting from fist into a star.
Now begin to speak as you repeat this motion with extended arms as you burst into a star hand to emphasize select words.
Yes, it can feel silly.
No, you won’t do this publically.
We’re still exploring here.
The next step is to leave hands extended and arms open as you speak.
Bring the hands to the energized resting place with bent elbows, that ready stance we spoke of earlier, and allow the hands to extend out into a starburst on a naturally emphasized part of the text as you speak.
This will feel like throwing the idea out into the air in front of you.
Repeat as your body becomes familiar with use the space in front and to the sides, gesturing in this pattern as you speak, until you feel that the energy of each star burst is traveling all the way from your back and out the finger tips.
Keep what that feels like in mind.
Now return one more time to our deliberate use of linear and round gesture.
Have another go while speaking aloud using both patterns of gesture while practicing full extension, and look for how to achieve that free flowing feeling we found with star hands to more conversation appropriate gesture.
Instead of a recap here, I have some homework for you.
To have patterns of movement available to us that we deliberately introduce, to familiarize them to the point that they are accessible as Organic Gesture, we need a lot of repetition and real world practice.
To help us reach the point at which deliberate Gesture is available to us in a strategic context, I want you to practice deliberate use of gesture in situations that are public and of little consequence.
A great place to start is at the lunch counter, or with your server while placing an order for a meal.
Think about the interaction before hand, and set a few gestural goals or challenges.
Try adopting an extension or pattern of Gesture that is situationally appropriate, but outside your comfort zone.
Clients report that the practice of new gesture in everyday interaction affords them confidence and some practical experience in the use of deliberate gesture.
Please employ deliberate gesture in at least 4 low stakes interactions to prepare yourself for the next few episodes.
You are going to want to really get comfortable pairing your movement with your voice, because in the coming episode we are going to be doing a lot of speaking!
Next time, Gesture, Articulation, and Thought