The Base-to-Gesture Relationship
Something interesting happens when we separate the communicative systems of the body.
We dissect, we compartmentalize, we apply specific language, we create terms, we define categories and work flows- all of these things we do so that we can understand a complicated process.
But what we find when we look at any individual idea is that its function winds up being described by its relationship to the function of some other idea.
The influence that Line Focus, Level, Horizontal, Orientation, Frame, Stance, and Plane all have on one another is omnidirectional- Standing in a Quarter Turn has a certain effect on a forward Plane Change, and a forward Plane Change has its own effect on a Quarter Turn.
When you combine these two ideas together, they change one another simultaneously to create the resulting action.
That’s because the flow of communication is not always kinetic, one thing causing another thing-
It certainly can be, but it doesn’t always have to be a domino effect.
Instead, a great deal of communication flow is more reticulate, like a web of interconnected points that don’t really start or begin at any one place.
In that sense, the interconnectedness, the interrelationship, IS the thing that’s happening.
You can understand the pieces by segmenting the web, but we need to remember that the COMBINATION of those segments is the thing that creates the function.
In this Episode, we’ll look at how Gesture, and the ideas from our last two episodes, tie into the net of physical systems.
To do that, we’ll be relying on categories, segments, and concepts that we’ve given the compartmentalized treatment.
Just like every other idea here, language limits me to teaching in some kind of sequence.
But I want to make it clear that once you’ve experimented with the information from this series, the goal is to understand communication systems as functioning simultaneously.
Once we understand our web, we can treat any one of our systems as the center of our communication, making a seed point from which all of our expressions can spiral out.
Then we can can move that Communicative Seed around, giving us agency over the key influencer that our expression emanates from- situation by situation, moment by moment, thought by thought.
There is always more information to learn, another skill to develop, another avenue and another discipline to explore.
But Strategic Communication doesn’t have to be about planning out every detail-
It’s about learning to use your intentions, and the information available to you, to make the important choices at the center of the communicative spiral.
Sometimes you’ll find that the more you know, the fewer choices are necessary to achieve your communicative goals.
So, back to our pieces and categories:
We know that our hands can constantly change Level, Horizontal and Plane, they widen and narrow, they can both follow and counter against the movements of the torso.
Find yourself an arm span’s worth of open space and follow along with me for a moment.
Use your arms to reach out and welcome an imaginary person into a room.
Now use your arms and hands to push that imaginary person away from you.
Now think of an idea, and use your hands to box-up that idea and place it in front of you.
Now place another idea to your left,
And now place one to your right.
Now let’s pull our arms in close to the body like it’s a cold and windy day-
And now let’s stretch them out wide, reaching our fingertips to the farthest extent our armspan will allow.
Ok, that’s all for now.
I want you to consider something: Each one of those was a Deliberate Gesture.
They may have felt natural, or they may have felt awkward, but we thought about them and then executed them on purpose.
That’s one way to use Gesture as a tool, but you can see that it requires you to channel some of your focus toward thinking about and then carrying out a specific task.
In this episode I want to take that idea of purposeful action, the kind we use to execute Deliberate Gesture, and apply it to influence our Organic Gesture, the kind we don’t have to think about.
So, we arrive at in interesting question: How do we do a natural thing on purpose?
Let’s start with what we’ve already learned.
When the hands are engaged in Organic Gesture, they will typically relate to the torso in their expression.
They naturally extend what is happening in the body.
We know that the resonance of the Voice is greatly influenced by the Base we employ-
And when we Gesture Organically our arms and hands are subject to the same kind of influence.
They display a close relationship to the body around action and movement.
That’s the function of Counterbalance we talked about in Episode 6.
If the body leans away from something in Plane, the arms and hands are likely to follow the torso by crossing backward in Plane.
And when you speak with a soft voice, it’s likely that your hands will communicate at a complimentary volume.
Think about it for a moment-
You’re unlikely to pound the table while whispering, and you’re probably not going to shout down an opponent with your hands in your pockets.
To sum that up: The Organic Relationship between Gesture, Voice, and Body predicts that the hands will extend the expression of the other systems.
We will be calling this the Base-to-Gesture Relationship.
In the Base-to-Gesture Relationship the rule of thumb is simple: Unless otherwise acted upon, the hands will follow what is expressed in the body.
The exciting thing about the Base-to-Gesture Relationship is that you can use it to influence Gesture without placing any direct focus on the hands.
Communicative choices can be layered and combined to create results through to the fingertips that begin with a Deliberate action in another system, but display in the arms and hands Organically.
Here’s an example:
We know that Moving atop a narrow Base will tend to keep the hands, arms, and elbows narrow as well, limiting ORGANIC GESTURE to a smaller range of motion and expression.
And we know that Moving atop a Wider Base will increase our Gestural Range of Motion by employing a Frame that affords a wider range of counterbalanced movement.
So by making the conscious choice to employ a NARROW base, we can influence our ORGANIC GESTURE to pull in closer to the torso with a DELIBERATE decision somewhere else in the body.
By the same measure, employing a Wide Base will draw Organic Gesture outward to use more available space.
Both of these actions change the activity of the arms and hands, and they do so without having to delegate any attention to what the exact movements of the hands should be.
To achieve an organic result, one that feels natural to both audience and performer, we can change the influencer, and avoid getting caught in the finer details.
That works because our physical systems are mutually influencing.
You can make a deliberate decision in one part of the body, and the effects of that decision will ripple out and spread that influence to everything else that is happening.
This is so important for avoiding gestures that appear rehearsed, contrived, or tacked on.
And it’s an incredible tool to support improvisation
We’ll be covering that in just a moment.
Just like The Breath-Thought Connection can support our verbal fluency, selecting a deliberate combination of Base and Orientation to direct your physical communication can have an immediate effect on the readiness and availability of your Gesture.
We exercise agency over that effect with what we will call a Point of Influence.
Remember how to form a Directive Thought?
Selecting a Point of Influence is another tool that begins with an intention.
One way to think about that intention is with the External Perspective in mind.
When speaking before an audience, we can choose our Point of Influence by considering Physical Amplification.
What do I mean by that?
We know that certain physical choices can act as an Amplifier and others can act as a Softener.
A forward Plane Change, employing a wide stance, giving Full Front Line Focus, rising abruptly to your feet, or stepping up to center stage-
These are all physical Amplifiers- They project out, and they Draw a lot of Focus.
Stepping backward in Plane, using a narrow base, employing Profile or Quarter Turn Orientations, Crossing your legs in a chair, stepping away from the center of attention-
These are all Softeners- They take some of the force and projection out of a physical action.
So when you set a Point of Influence for the Base-to-Gesture Relationship, you can start by selecting one that will amplify, or one that will soften.
This Point of Influence can be exchanged as needed, it’s not there to lock you in-
Its purpose is to give you agency and awareness.
We’ve spoken about a Basic Stance, A Ready Stance, and various other “neutral” or “available” ways to use space.
Neutral, or middle ground positions, although they are the best place to begin a practice, don’t always make for strong illustrators of complex ideas, so let’s look at some examples that require a dynamic or nuanced solution.
Some of you may be asking yourself, “If I want to bring strong presence to my communication and performance, why would I select a Softener as my Point of Influence?? I don’t want to appear as though I am quiet or lack confidence”
Others may be asking, “If I want to be listened to and seen as reasonable, why would I select an Amplifier as my Point of Influence?? I don’t want to appear brash or overbearing.”
Both questions here can be answered in the same way.
Communication is dynamic, it expands and contracts, it has peaks and valleys.
You want to select a Point of Influence that gives your content and your personality somewhere to go.
If you have an impassioned argument to make, then beginning with an already amplified Influencer may cause your content and resulting expression to go over the top.
In other words, if you start big, you have nowhere to go but bigger when you arrive at your key points.
If you begin too passionately you may well conclude with your arms waving about and your fists pounding the table.
Here is one way we might think about our Point of Influence for that kind of situation:
A Softer Point of Influence, maybe beginning in a Quarter Turn or keeping you stance slightly more narrow than usual, will allow you to use the decreased range of counterbalance to reign in charged arms and hands.
But it STILL gives you room to expand those arms hands back out into space, releasing that energy through the hands to serve your message when you need the emphasis, and to make a point without going past 11.
Let’s look at another scenario.
What if you have a moderated and well reasoned explanation to present? If your content is dry, or your presentation is dense, then beginning with a Softer Point of Influence may make it difficult for your points to land with the resonance and significance that they deserve.
Here you risk disappearing into a dispassionate body if you begin with a Point of Influence that is too Soft.
We’ve all seen someone like this before- a speaker with arms clasping one another tightly, hands dug deep into pockets, or limp at their sides, their Gesture all but forgotten as they direct all their focus to word choice and accuracy.
They wish to be clearly understood, and what they have to say is important, but they are having a hard time getting their audience to listen attentively.
Here’s one way we might think about a Point of Influence to address this situation:
Starting with an Amplifier, such a Wide Stance or a Full Front Orientation, paired with open and un-pocketed hands, can help to link more gestures to thoughts, engage more of the Emotional Center and can draw more attention physically to what may be complex or explanation-intensive content.
These two examples, the over-animated and the under-animated, represent ends of a spectrum, but they mirror two types of clients I receive in my studio over and over again.
One group comes to me and says, “people have told me I use my hands too much when I speak, and that I need to stop gesturing with my content.”
The other group comes to me and says, “people tell me I need to use my hands more when I speak because I don’t gesture enough.”
So what is the right thing to do, where is the happy medium?
Let me make one thing about this question clear:
Gesture plays a crucial role in supporting our content and providing non verbal emphasizers, detractors, and cues to the people we interact with.
There is no perfect amount of gesture to use or not use, and “Use your hands more” or “Use your hands less” are not useful or actionable directions.
What is actionable, and what you can construct a performance around, is the idea that Gesture is effective when it contributes to meaning.
If your gesture supports your content, and if it communicates your intended meaning, then that amount, be it a little, a lot, or somewhere in the middle, is the appropriate amount.
If you can determine the level of physical Amplification that is supportive to what you have to say, and then adjust your body accordingly by selecting a Point of Influence that reflects that Amplification, you can get yourself pretty close to where you want to be quickly and easily.
Not only does this help soothe the anxiety of having to choreograph each movement and every detail, it produces an effect that is easy to replicate in stressful, high pressure situations.
That’s how we use the Base-to-Gesture Relationship to our advantage.
I know that this episode has been heavy on vocabulary and concepts, so here’s a simple little idea that encompasses the greater message:
“Gesture expresses from the Base upward, and outward.”
We can do a lot with a little when we make our Base the center point of our communicative web.
Taking a moment to deliberately adjust your Base to match your communicative goal can make a big impact on your Organic expression, and it doesn’t require you take your focus off your content to make it happen.
Keep that in mind, but keep this in mind as well:
Strategic communication, and strategic use of gesture, is not about crafting you into another person, its about supporting meaning making, YOUR meaning making, in a more purposeful way.
In the last three episodes we have broken Gesture down into several categories and ideas.
We began with the difference between Organic Gesture, which manifests naturally and without choreography, and Deliberate Gesture, which is the result of purposeful planning and execution.
We introduced two basic Gestural Patterns: Rounded Gesture, associated with narrative, and more flexible expression; and Linear Gesture, better suited to direct, factually-centered exchange.
We talked about ways to alternate and blend these patterns to bring more dynamic presence to your content, and the relationship they form with the articulation and thought process.
We learned that physicalizing with Rounded Gesture tends to influence the Lips, Teeth, and Tongue toward lengthening and rounding vowel sounds, and can lead to longer, more conjunction-heavey sentence structure.
We also learned that Linear Gesture tends to influence the Articulators towards crisp, clean, consonant-focus sounds. This can create a faster, direct and to the point sentence structure.
The comparison we drew was of a melody on cello- Linear Gesture Represents a quicker, more clearly articulated staccato expression; while Rounded Gesture represents a more drawn out, lengthy or blending legato style of expression.
In addition to looking at how to interchange these two patterns, we also explored exercises to help us engage more of our body in our gestural movements, transitioning our expression away from a hands-only approach and freeing up our Gesture to use more of the muscles in the back and shoulders.
Remember our Full Extension exercise? When we imagined that we had a tennis ball under the arms, opening them up and out, expanding our range of movement?
How about our “Star Hands” exercise? Consciously focusing on feeling the energy in our gesture move from the back, to the shoulder, through the elbows, down and out through the fingertips?
If you don’t remember them, or you skipped over them because they felt silly, go back to the second half of Episode 10 and give them a review.
In this episode, we returned to the idea of Organic Gesture, our naturally occuring expression.
In doing so, we looked at an important strategy, one that helps us to achieve some deliberate control over that Organic process.
Instead of focusing on what to do with the hands, we discussed how the Base-to-Gesture relationship can function in the same manner as a Directive Thought to carry our intention Organically through to the fingertips.
To do this, we use our Frame, Stance, and Orientation to create a Point of Influence for Gesture.
Combinations of Wider Stances and more Open Orientations will Amplify that Point of Influence, and combinations of more Narrow Stances and more indirect Orientations can soften it.
Remember that gesture expresses from the Base upward and outward, and that the simplest way to harness the Base-to-Gesture Relationship is to select a Base that matches your communicative goal.
Even though we usually talk about the standing Frame, you’ll recall from Episode 6 the Base refers to the weight-bearing point the body moves over and around in space.
The Base-to-Gesture relationship applies to a standing base, a sitting base, or even a reclining base.
Now of course, just as I explained in our introduction, it’s difficult to achieve the desired result when all of your information is understood in sections and pieces.
The goal is not to separate out, but to Integrate our Gesture.
That integration takes experimentation, molding, and then most importantly, practice.
So if you need to, listen to these episodes again! recombine! Practice what YOU want when YOU feel like it and when YOU need it!
We have one more episode for you after this, but before you move ahead I suggest you give yourself some time to review, practice, and internalise.