boris johnson, communication skills, general election, jeremy corbyn, jo swinson, public speaking
Habit 5 of The Seven Habits® is specifically directed towards that major part of human existence. If you were to read ‘The Book’ you would receive a comprehensive explanation of how successful communication works.
On a course I used to run (as a licensee of The Springboard Consultancy) called Navigator®, one of the modules was about communication and, more relevantly here, about barriers to communication. Obvious examples included language, culture and context, but I have discovered a new one, one which also goes some way towards confirming how we humans have a tendency to become conditioned to mannerisms like modes of speech and language and adopt them unthinkingly.
Remember Covey’s first Habit, Be Proactive? Its main thesis is that there is a space between stimulus and response, and our failure to utilise that space results in blind compliance with whatever becomes the norm in our environment. This blind compliance results in everyone acting ‘the same’ having given no thought whatsoever to the consequence of that new behaviour.
At the moment, combining the two lessons of reactive response and barriers to communication, I have an observation which I hope readers will share. Primarily with the BBC Politics Live to start with, then everywhere else.
It is this.
For some reason, and it is more noticeable with young ‘speakers’, people on the television have developed a habit of waving their hands about when talking. It was one or two, now they’re all at it.
In itself, a controlled gesture that is designed to emphasise a specific point in a sentence is fine, even welcome and natural. But emphasising every single word with a pointy/downward-claw/pleading gesture made with both hands (yes, Miss Swinson, YOU) means you have emphasised NOTHING.
What is more, while you are waving your hands around, the camera or eye that is focused on your top half can only see your hands waving around and it can’t see what expressions your face is making. People who are hard of hearing (or who are in a room full of screaming kids) and trying to lip-read just can’t.
In other words, what you are trying to say – and it may be important – is lost in a whirr of randomly-wriggling digits and limbs.
I recall the old days when news presenters just spoke with a mic in their hands and I’d agree that was visually dull. But now they’ve been trained to ‘be more expressive’ they’ve gone banzai-nuts and can’t stop moving about. It’s like watching Sir Simon Rattle conduct Thunderstruck by AC/DC.
There is a happy medium.
Might I make a suggestion?
It’s still considered a bit contentious, because some professional speaking clubs don’t like it, but if you put one hand in your pocket, you reduce the sillier gestures by more than half, and the other hand finds a natural rhythm in terms of gesturing that enhances, not obstructs your presentation. (But keep the pocketed hand still…… that’s a whole different distraction.)
This doesn’t just apply to political panels. It applies to any presentation that you have to make, and ‘Hobbs’ Law’ makes the speaker “100% responsible for communication”.
If the audience can’t hear you because all they can do is see your agitated hands, then it’s your fault if they don’t get the message. And a missed message wastes time. Lots of it. Time that has to be spent repeating the message properly.
If Jo Swinson hadn’t been waving her arms about, perhaps she could have been PM tomorrow.
(Sorry, I just spat my own coffee…………….)