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Public Speaking: Controlling Your Movements

Updated on October 12, 2009

Movement while giving a speech or performing in a play: Some people have too much, some not enough. What is the right recipe?

One of the most irritating things to watch is a child reciting a poem with their arms flapping around everywhere trying to animate the poem. It makes me, and others like me, cringe when we see these over-the-top actions. It really ruins the vocal work of the performer.

Two cases of over-dramatization in poetry that I can remember vividly are:

1. The girl was saying a poem about kangaroos, so her teacher told her to bounce like a kangaroo for the entire poem. Due to this, her voice was wavy, she was getting puffed out, and she frequently "jumped" and faced the back of the stage so we couldn't hear a word she was saying!

2. A child doing a poem about a bird flapped her arms continuously throughout the poem. She also got tired out, it looked stupid and really awful, and she lost some of her vocal work because she was too busy thinking about her arms.

The most important thing in Speech and Drama is the words, especially in speech and poetry. When reciting a poem, only natural movement and gesture should be used. Nothing over the top or awkward for the performer will make their performance better, it will usually drag them down. Trying to say a poem effectively while flapping your arms is an uphill battle! Some teachers think that this looks cute for little kids, and that it makes their poetry better, but you are wrong! In most poetry it is also a good idea to stand in the one spot. Of course there are certain poems where movement around the stage may be beneficial, but unnecessary movement causes more problems for the performer than good.

Drama is of course, a different story. In Drama, you are acting out another person or character, and movement is a very important element in an effective performance. Excessive arm movements are mostly not beneficial however. There are exceptions to this (a play I saw recently about a disabled person had them flailing their arms wildly and was very effective) but arm gestures should not be used constantly.

When using movement in drama, there are some important factors to be considered:

  1. Make sure you are not blocking any other characters on the stage.
  2. Don't face the back of the stage or the wings when speaking or your voice will be swallowed up.
  3. Make sure movement seems natural to the character, and only move when necessary.
  4. Try to make sure that everyone in the audience can see where you are standing on the stage, especially if you are speaking. For example if you are standing in a corner, people on the far right or far left seats may not be able to see you.

Movement in Speech and Drama is a hard thing to balance. A simple thing to remember for most situations: if it feels unnatural or stupid, it usually looks that way too. I hope this information can help you in your dramatic and other public speaking ventures!

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