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How Much Expression is Too Much?

Updated: Jun 20, 2020

Showing expression when you speak in public is important. No-one wants to listen to a deadly boring speaker for long, but how much expression is too much?

In debating, we encourage students to express their natural enthusiasm and personality, to be passionate, convincing and confident. There is a difference though, between being expressive and between a drama performance. When students are first learning to debate, they often rehearse their hand gestures, movements and even facial expressions. This is okay because the students are beginners, but once students have some experience, it's good to encourage them to bring their natural expression to their speech and focus less on the over-the-top and over-rehearsed expression.

It's not an easy thing to teach though - we tell students that we want them to practice and rehearse and be prepared for their speech. We tell them we want them to be expressive and not boring, but at the same time, we also telling them that we want them to be natural with their expression.

Many children are not necessarily subtle by nature, so helping them understand the difference between speaking with expression and using your personality versus performing rehearsed movements can be tricky. It's something that develops with time and experience though. Having a debate coach who can bring a student's attention to this idea in a positive way is important to help students develop and continue to evolve with their skills. For advanced debaters, expression becomes more about working to be at ease with an audience and communicating more naturally, being able to use dot points on their palm cards to speak using their own words, and being able to listen to other speakers and adapt as necessary, rather than memorising a monologue and performing it. The video below show snippets of young children at a public speaking competition. The clips are set to music though, so you don't hear the children speak, but you do see their hand gestures and expression. It's a fun exercise - either on your own or even with a group of students to pause after each child shown on the video and state whether it seemed like a naturally expressive speech or an over-rehearsed performance. You may be able to find other examples of both types of expression by searching other YouTube videos too.


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