Unnatural Gestures

When addressing a public, an individual’s words are not the only messages relayed to the audience. A gesture can emphasize an important point or if used incorrectly, can unintentionally detract from the speaker’s point. Therefore, it is especially important to practice gestures in addition to practicing the verbal part of the speech.

It’s clear that the president is required to develop these gesture skills before they take office. In addition to a speechwriter, the president often has a speech coach to campaign and practice with. We can see in the shift of Bill Clinton’s gestures from the beginning of his political career to his presidency, that he was clearly coached to develop the use appropriate gestures.

Clinton’s signature gesture, the Clinton Thumb, was developed during his political career to move away from his use of finger pointing. The origin of the Clinton Thumb was be a mediate between the fist clench and the finger point. This avoided appearing to angry and offending anyone in the audience. While this gesture has it’s purpose and was clearly encouraged by speech coaching professionals, I don’t agree that it is effective. The audience that a president is likely to address is going to be rather large so while finger pointing may offend some in a smaller setting where individuals are being singled out, I don’t believe this has an effect on such a large audience. This gesture also seems very unnatural. When developing a signature gesture, I believe that this should be something natural that the speaker already does. Natural body language looks more comfortable for the speaker and less contrived even if it is practiced and purposefully implemented. We can see Clinton’s use of the Clinton Thumb in his Inaugural address in 1993. He mixes it in with his other gestures throughout the speech, all of which I believe look more natural than this awkward holding of an invisible pen. This juxtaposition of the Clinton Thumb with more natural pointing and gesturing to himself with two hands makes it seem extremely artificial. These gestures can be seen between 6:42-7:08 Clinton’s Inaugural Address 1993

~ Sarah Theobald


1 comment so far

  1. johnsokb on

    As children we are taught, “not to point” because it is considered “rude” and it is something that we grow up knowing to just not do. However, in a large crowd then what an individual person considered rude does not quite do the same effect. Despite this, if Clinton were to speak with an individual or a small crowd, by habit, he would point. Therefore according to Sarah’s claim, I think Clinton would for sure come across this problem as he transitions from audience to audience.

    I completely understand how unnatural gestures can be unnaturally comfortable. If I am not mistaken, in the time frame Sarah gives us of Clinton’s inauguration speech, he switches constantly between pointing and a fist like gesture (which I believe Sarah is referring to as the Clinton Thumb). His struggle between the gestures is quite obvious. I like the idea that someone’s “signature” gesture should be that of their own, but at the same time, I think society’s rules are what’s getting in the way of Clinton having just that. With this said, because Clinton had just been inaugurated into a very high position as President of the United States, his coaches are professional understands what possibly can hinder his message from getting across to his audience.

    As he practices, his learned gesture will become more comfortable for him. I feel it is just a skill that he has to learn while publicly addressing others, just as Professor Secrease-Dickenson critiques her students.

    -Katelyn Johnson

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