Imagine that you stick a strip of Velcro on the inside of your upper arm, from your armpit to your elbow, with the matching strip on the side of your chest. You then close your arms against your chest.
An increasing number of speakers adopt this dysfunctional gesture. Oh, and before I forget, remember to clamp your hands together just above your belly button. You are now ready to present with restricted breathing, limited, poor voice projection, unsettling gestures, low impact, increased nervousness and appearing unsecure and insincere. Just what you wanted, right?
What is so remarkable about this posture is the effect it has on the breathing.
Just as pumping the hands and arms from the shoulders is essential if you want to run fast and benefit from a deeper breathing cycle, applying Velcro elbows is a great way to put the brakes on the deep, relaxed breathing that fuels the voice.
Communications researchers confirmed long ago how vital the voice is – specifically the variation in volume, intonation and speed – to support the credibility of what is said.
Yet it continues to be a source of wonderment just how many speakers limit themselves, and negatively influence the credibility of what they say, by presenting with Velcro elbows!
Velcro elbows restrict your gestures. The photos (left) show the complete range of gestures that a well-known international sales and presentation skills trainer used during a 10-minute presentation. There are so few available gestures that this presenter has no choice but to repeat the basic ones.
I challenge you to give someone directions on the street to the nearest supermarket using Velcro elbows! Communications researchers confirmed long ago the importance of functional gestures in supporting the credibility of what is said.
Velcro elbows, that have become the new standard, are anything but varied, functional and entertaining. The credibility of both the speaker and the content consequently suffer.
Unconsciously, the listeners believe that the restrained gestures indicate that the speaker is hiding something.
It seems that presenters have removed the Velcro they needed on their legs (previously preventing the relentless sauntering and hip-hop shift of weight from one leg to another) to their arms in order to restrict gestures that previously helped their message. Communications researchers confirmed long ago the importance of functional movement (and standing still!) in supporting the credibility of what is said.
The physical ‘undercarriage’ of legs and feet support the hips (pelvis) so that the diaphragm can work optimally and so that the back remains straight. (Co-)incidentally, the simple act of standing erect confirms the impression of ‘straight talking’ and therefore the credibility.
Keeping the legs and feet still supports the upper body which can then turn to support the relaxed gestures which fit the words.
Yes, there are ‘right’ moments to move, but that’s another story! The most important thing is that when the gestures become relaxed and functional, other movements and facial expressions will also gradually become functional and support the message.
An inside job
Sauntering, shallow breathing, the voice pitched unnaturally high, elbows and shoulders stuck tight against the chest – these are all expressions of a speaker who feels insecure and unsafe.
Apply loads of Velcro to the upper body and the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in to ensure that the speaker really does feel insecure and unsafe, with all the appropriate consequences in verbal and above all non-verbal communication.
It’s no surprise, then, that so many speakers anchor themselves to the false security that the projection screen and their slides seem to offer instead of looking for – and finding – true security in calm eye-contact and a solid connection with their listeners.
Appearances are deceptive
It’s truly amazing how both common sense as well as scientific evidence provide clear behavioural guidelines, while the emotion of the moment (powered by the adrenalin of the performance) ensures that destructive (or at least ‘less than optimal’!) behaviour takes over.
The only solution is… awareness… and daring to practise with different, empowering behaviour, in close contact with real people instead of seeking support in an impersonal screen and soulless computers.
Free up your arms and elbows – and express yourself freely!