A few hours spent in Rome airport recently reminded me how important gestures are to developing a level of vocal variety that keeps your voice worth listening to. It is a truism that southern Europeans gesticulate when they speak, and we probably all know somebody who was made to sit on their hands, so they could not speak at all.
On occasions in public speaking training, if I am presented with a monotonous voice, I will film the speaker and play it back to them - with the sound turned off. Almost inevitably, the lack of vocal variety is accompanied by a lack of physical movement: hands clasped or folded, in pockets or behind the speaker's back. And based on the playback, I ask a simple question: 'Just by looking at that, how interesting do you think the speaker's voice is?' And of course, the answer is: 'Not very interesting.'
Sitting in Rome airport, it was possible to turn my head away and 'hear' the animation in a speaker's delivery. Even on the radio, sometimes it's possible to imagine and actually feel the physical animation accompanying a presenter's voice. It's interesting to note to what degree a variety of gestures is reflected in various tones. Whereas often, you will note that frequent repetition of a specific gesture is reflected in a sameness of intonation: such as short, clipped statements being continuously punctuated by matching chopped gestures. And repetition (unless, of course, it is rhetorical and deliberate) becomes monotonous and, at worst, a driver to distraction, like waiting for the next tap drip or a roommate's snore. Therefore as speakers, we must be aware of keeping the gesture-voice connection uninhibited. However, when presenting, there are many potential obstacles to stifle that connection: clutching a lectern restricts physical movement and can therefore dull the voice; clasping a PowerPoint controller can also cause a restriction in vocal flow; holding cards or notes may also cause a blockage and the archetypal managing director pontificating with one hand in his pocket and the other meaninglessly circling in front of him will also conjure up an image of droning monotony.
So if you are working at keeping your voice interesting, consider this: as well as working directly on tone and vocal variety, keep your mind open to what your hands are doing. Hands and voice work together. Variety in one is usually reflected in the other.
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