Show What You Mean

by Vincent Li DTM

Perhaps if you are Italian, speaking with gesture comes naturally to you. For the rest of us, there is Toastmasters Communication & Leadership manual project #4, “Show What You Mean”. The purpose, as stated in the manual, is to practice the use of gestures to enhance your speech. It is not a show and tell. You can do that in project #8.

The topic you select should be one that let you use gestures in a natural way. Does that mean you really need a special topic? Perhaps that depends. Appropriate gestures can enhance any speech. However, some subject perhaps lend itself easier to gesturing than others. Gesture to show your mountain climbing techniques is probably easier and more natural than talking about how to program a computer. On the other hand, you can consider translating the abstract ideas of computer program into concrete analogies and gesture those ideas. What you want to keep in mind is that your gestures should enhance your speech, not distract from it.

Gestures range from your facial expression, to your arm movement, to moving your entire body. The larger the movement, the more it will be noticed by your audience, and more you may associate with a bigger change in idea in your speech. For example, constant pacing back and forth is very distracting. However, if you present one of your points standing near one side, then walk over to the other side to continue with your next idea, that signals a transition of ideas.

Mimi talked about “Dozing & Driving Counter Attack” for her C&L project #4. Asking how she prepared, she said, “I prepared it in front of my computer in my home office with research materials everywhere. I just finished my thesis at the time, titled “Commercial Vehicle Driver Fatigue and Accident Risks”. It was still fresh with the topic of fatigue and driving at that time.” She would have liked to have put in a bit more humour on an otherwise quite serious subject. Talking about a research project or proposal at work you’ve just done is also a good idea. You’ve already done the leg work, so why not reuse what you have learned and share?

For my first speech #4, I tried to incorporate movements I learned in Tai Chi in a speech about the life of the Douglas Fir – bad idea. It would work much better to have talked about one topic or the other and keep the gestures separate. What seem like a clever idea turns out to be a little distracting. Come up with your speech first, then work on the gestures at places where they are appropriate.

Personally, I think this is probably one of the “easier” projects to do, since most any speech you ever do is in some way self-organized. Just think about what are you trying to say. That’s your ending and introduction. Now think about “what’s in it for me” from the audience’s perspective. As the audience, why should I agree with your conclusion? What might be my interest or what stake do I have? Consider establishing this at your introduction to grab the audience. Take William’s example, what does knowing the I-joist design process be a benefit to me? To an engineer like me, perhaps it’s enough to learn about the technical considerations. For the aspiring managers, perhaps the fundamental principles of project management in the whole process can be translated to other businesses and industries. For the general audience, perhaps knowing what goes into my house and the safety issue give me more insight when I need to talk to the insurance inspector, or if I’m just doing some home renovations.