Puppethands

Have you seen presenters and performers with these?   It’s not their fault.  They tried hard, and studied what coaches most often say about gesture.

They learned they absolutely MUST use hand and arm gestures. They learned they should stay inside the shoulder-to-waist box. They made sure they didn’t point. They made notes in their text about where to gesture. They learned their palms should be face up. They avoided mime, too much repetition, pumping, pocketing, crossing, hip-holding, behind-the-backing, and a ton of other no-no’s.  They learned plenty.

And yet they still look like a clock-work Lincoln in the Hall of Presidents.

They have Puppethands.

puppethands

Like the marionettes from Thunderbirds Are Go, like C3PO, like Barbie. Puppethands attract attention because they fail to move in natural coordination with head/neck movement, their articulation is stiff, and their dynamics don’t really make perfect sense with the timing and emotion of the voice.

Anyone can get them.  Not just puppets.

So do these unlucky performers need to learn even more precise rules?  Should they practice more to make it look realistic?

Nerp.  “Looking realistic” just aint enough.  The human brain currently assesses movement with a higher level of sophistication than we can describe it.  So no matter how many rules you follow, movement tells the truth.

Check out these clips of video games and androids. These are so freakin’ cool. And the stillshots look amazing, right?   It’s the movement that tells us that what we’re looking at is a fake. Lifelike, yes. But we can do better than “lifelike”.

Beyond the movement issue, we recognize fakey gestures because outside-in coaching just doesn’t work as well as inside out.

That means stop trying to “seem” more this, or “look” more that, or “come across as” something.  It’s pointless.

But I seem nervous!

–    Because you are.

But I don’t want to seem nervous!

–    Why not?

… and here’s the fork in the road.  Either the answer is “because it will make me look stupid,” or the answer is “because this message needs to get to this audience.”

Which road do you want to travel down?

The coaching that goes down the Not Looking Stupid road focuses on externals about the speaker. And since they don’t really work, the road eventually dead ends.

The road called Audience Gets Message is more a verb than a noun. It’s movement, and it requires us to focus more on the message and the audience than on ourselves. The Audience Gets Message road leads forward to the goal and well beyond it in all directions.  It allows for innovation, rule-breaking, weirdness, and non-standard but effective new kinds of communication.

But if I look stupid, they won’t hear my message!

–  Are you sure about that?

Usually, when we are outside-in oriented, we don’t actually pay attention to the audience, not really.  So, ask who IS this audience, and what do they think is stupid?   Tell me about their specific context, their needs, challenges, strengths, and expectations.

But how do you fix puppethands?

Start by not treating yourself like a marionette with a superego hanging out above your body.  Instead, get right down inside your body.  And now take a look at this audience, right now.

AAAAAAGH.

I know, it’s MUCH more frightening.

More on that in posts to come.

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Where Do I Put My Hands?

“Where do I put my hands” ranks with “How should I stand?” as the most F of the novice FAQ’s.

Here are the answers:

Q:   “Where do I put my hands?”    A:  In your Content.

Q:  “How should I stand?”   A:   So I can see you.

I’d love to just mic drop right here, but these questions are so F they deserve a full treatment.

 

Imagine your nervous body is a pioneer fort under siege.  Siege commences.

Some people are scattering in panic — that’s like your hands fidgeting, and body pacing.  Some are hiding (like sunken chest, backpedaling, hands in pockets).   Some run to protect the back gate (hands clasping behind back) or cover the weak points (hands covering crotch, elbows tight against ribs).  In this chaos, it feels like a blessing to get any instruction at all from an external authority at high command: “You there, form ranks, present arms, and hold THIS position!”  (stiff poses and canned gestures)

“Oh, and act casual.  YOUR LIVES DEPEND ON IT.”

 

And that’s probably the third most F of the FAQ’s:  “How do I hide the fact that I – ”

Stop right there.

“But how can I come across as – ”    Stop.

“But I want to seem more – ”    No.     Nup.    Bup.

Our bodies naturally want to tell the truth.  We can spend years learning tips and tricks to cover over an icky truth, spotting anywhere the truth pops out, and stomping on it.  Don’t clasp hands, don’t put them in your pockets or behind your back, don’t point, don’t saw, don’t pump, don’t drum, don’t hairtwist, don’t touch your nose or ears.  don’t dont dont. Plenty of people communicate brilliantly while breaking these rules, but teachers still create these giant no-no lists.  This one even called the issue of hand gesture a “minefield”.

Jesus Christ, who wants to play in a minefield?  No wonder we’re nervous.

Wouldn’t you rather play in a field where there was buried gold all over the place?     So, let’s make one.   And then we’ll invite the audience to play in it with us.

The Gold

What’s the treasure you’re trying to share with your audience?  It’s not something like “that I’m a great performer” or “that I’m worthy of admission to this fine drama school”. That way lies empty chests.  No, the gold is going to be something specific to your content and that audience.

Maybe you’re singing Ave Maria, and the gold is a sense of comfort, or joy, or release, or remembrance, or reverence for motherhood.  Maybe you’re giving a sermon, and the gold is a renewed commitment to a specific spiritual practice, or a social justice cause.  Maybe you’re auditioning with Portia’s Quality of Mercy speech and the gold is the always-relevant reminder to Shylock that forgiveness is his highest possible choice.  Maybe you’re giving a TED talk and the gold is an innovation in symbiotic fungi production that holds hope for food security in the 21st century.

You’ve got gold here, buddy.  I don’t care if you’re nervous, share the damn gold.

Yes, absolutely there are some behaviors that are so distracting they will disrupt your ability to share.  But you’ll do better focusing on positives.  Don’t think of a giraffe in high heels.   See?  Your brain skipped right over the “don’t”, and now it’s deciding whether they’re spikes or wedges.

So instead look at the vast range of gestural possibility, and seek to enlarge it.  Gestures are tools to help us reveal the gold, and we can always be shopping for cool tools.

Consider the Laban movement lexicon, intro here by a squad of adorables from U of Colorado.  Or test your global gestural understanding with this excellent Japanese teacher.  And this bit o’ awesome is snatched from a class on Chimpanzee body language, though it also inspires questions about the primacy of gesture over verbal language.

These things won’t give you the satisfaction that a list of do’s and don’ts will give you.  But they do help you find your own personally authentic ways of sharing treasure, without turning into a singer-bot or robo-speaker.   See the Puppies post for more on that.