Crazy over public speaking gestures for 70 years

Found this old film from the 1940s that runs through the ‘basics’ of effective public speaking. It’s absolute rubbish, but very funny, with an over-emphasis on body posture and forced gestures.

There’s some hilarious footage here; especially in the scene demonstrating how not to make public speaking gestures. And in the final “live” speech the speaker’s motions are so calculated, they distract from what the speaker is trying to say.

What interests me are the comments on the video: People think this is helpful.

  • “I’m a public speaker and this documentary serves as a timeless reminder that body language is an important skill.”
  • “Thank you for sharing the great knowledge with us.”
  •  “I like this video because I’m just starting my public speaking career.”
  • “Great presentation. Well spoken and good points to ponder.”

What? Public Speaking for robots!

It seems even today, people are being taught un-natural, mechanistic public speaking skills.

The ‘bad’ example of poor gestures is so over the top as to be inhuman.

And of course, this guy’s problem is not that he naturally moves like he’s being drawn and quartered like Mel Gibson in Braveheart, but that he lacks certainty about his content – which is reflected in his gestures.

Clear visual explanations (gestures) flow from clarity about what you are saying. Don’t teach people gestures, teach clear preparation and clear thinking skills so they can speak naturally.

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If you’d like to become a relaxed, compelling and persuasive speaker, consider:

Comments

  1. Clear visual explanations (gestures) flow from clarity about what you are saying. Don’t teach people gestures, teach clear preparation and clear thinking skills so they can speak naturally. –> 100% I dissagree to this statement. The clarity about what you are saying does not necessarily lead you to do visual explanations clearly. They are very different! Not every natural gestures are effective, ellegant and polite gestures. So we need to know and train our effective gestures. Because we speak in public!!

    • Cam Barber says:

      Thanks for your thoughts Budi. Everybody is different, so perhaps I should have said “Clear visual explanations (gestures) *USUALLY* flow naturally from clarity about what you are saying, when you are comfortable on stage”. That has been my experience with around 10,000 coaching/training participants.

      Certainly many people benefit from exercises to move their body and add gestures to emphasize their points. But then you have another challenge: How do you teach the same gesture to a loud extrovert-style speaker and a quiet introvert-style speaker? Do we try to make everybody the same? How boring for the audience. How stifling for the speaker’s development.

      Surely our goal as a teacher/coach is to help them to develop their own natural style. This video implies a stiff, fixed style of gestures is right for everyone, to every audience. It’s not. Speakers are different. Audiences are different. Eras are different. Corporate cultures are different. How do you build a connection with an audience if you look and act like every other speaker?

      Of course, there are many ways to be a great speaker, and my perspective is just one! Thanks again for the debate.

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