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Friends of the Nonverbal Communication Blog, this week we present the paper “Effectiveness, Attractiveness, and Emotional Response to Voice Pitch and Hand Gestures in Public Speaking”, by Rodero, E. (2022), in which the author carries out a study to know how the variations in the tone of voice intensity, and the frequency and exaggeration of hand gestures influence the effectiveness of public speeches.

When we see and hear a person speaking, we can distinguish two distinct parts of the communication that are very important: what the person says and how he or she says it, that is, the content and the form of the message. Or, in other words, verbal and nonverbal communication, both equally important. 

The author decides to focus, in this case, on nonverbal communication, since every part of our body, every movement, facial expression or variation of tone, has a meaning. In fact, our brain can create an impression about a person giving a speech in just milliseconds, just by looking at his/her face, his/her body, or listening to his/her voice. 

We have already mentioned on numerous occasions that there are different channels of nonverbal communication. On the one hand, we have everything related to kinesics, such as gestures, postures or movement; there is also paralanguage, which are the features of the voice; proxemics, which refers to space and distance management; the appearance of people, such as clothing, jewelry, even skin color. 

Nonverbal communication signals can influence perception and message processing. We use our body and voice changes to reinforce or qualify what we say, convey emotions, attitudes, intentions, regulate the flow of communication….

According to experts, charismatic leaders use variations in tone of voice, eye contact, gestures and facial expressions to differentiate themselves from the rest. The way television presenters, for example, use their voices and gestures when speaking in public is crucial to engage the audience, attract their attention and provoke emotions. 

This research analyzes the effectiveness, appeal and emotional response of different strategies related to tone of voice and hand gestures in public speeches. But why these two elements?

First of all, voice plays a very important role in our social relationships, and therefore in persuasive messages, such as public speeches. How we use our voice is called prosody, and it represents the set of characteristics we use when speaking. 

One of the most important components of prosody is intonation, yet research on the influence of intonation variations when it comes to public speaking is scarce, despite its importance. 

In 2011, a study found that substantial changes in pitch increased persuasiveness and credibility, and in 2021 it was concluded that a higher and more varied pitch in the voice is related to greater charisma. In public speeches, a moderate emphatic intonation is considered the most effective, captures more attention and provokes greater excitement, improving comprehension, due to its dynamism. 

However, although these changes are very positive, excessive variations could be counterproductive and make the speech exaggerated and unnatural, so the author’s hypothesis is that the moderate strategy would be the best option. 

On the other hand, we have hand gestures. According to experts, people who use hand gestures are perceived as more effective, persuasive, credible, dominant, outgoing, sociable and honest. Therefore, there is a tendency to associate positive traits with hand movements. 

A study conducted with TED talks concluded that hand gestures make the speaker appear more convincing. However, as with the tone of voice, too much intensity could be overdone and cause distractions. 

For the study, a total of 48 videos of short speeches were recorded in which three variations of voice pitch (soft, moderate, intense) and three intensities of hand gestures (soft, moderate, intense) were combined. 120 university students formed the study sample. 

The findings showed that the nonverbal communication cues examined were relevant in determining the effectiveness and attractiveness of a public speech.

The strategy with moderate pitch variations, in terms of tone of voice, was the most effective and attractive, followed by the high variation style and, in third place, few variations. The result is in line with the findings of previous studies.

A balanced strategy with tone changes, neither too few nor too many, is perceived as more dynamic and therefore more effective, since a more expressive voice is always perceived better than a dull voice, and brings charisma. 

As for gestures, it was exactly the same. The moderate strategy was the most successful, followed by the strategy of many gestures and, in last position, few gestures. 

By combining strategies related to voice tone and gestures, the author obtained the novel finding that, when the voice uses moderate variations in tone, both moderate gestures and exaggerated gestures are effective. 

The results of this study allow us to advance in the analysis of nonverbal cues, especially, as is logical, in the study of voice tone and gestures. The author points out the need to devote greater efforts to studying the effects of both channels combined, which, as we have seen, can offer promising answers to interesting questions. 

If you want to know more about nonverbal behavior and how it affects personal relationships, visit our Master of Science in Nonverbal and Deceptive Behavior, which you can take in English or Spanish, with special grants for readers of the Nonverbal Communication Blog.

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