Kinaesthetic & Breathing in Presentations


         This section has to do with the body language you use to communicate. It is worth remembering that you cannot not communicate, so optimal communication simply means being aware of how you do it.

          The Hands study

         Allan and Barabara Pease describe a study of hand gestures performed in USA universities in 'The Definitive Book of Body Language'. Several college lecturers were asked to perform different hand signs while giving their normal lectures. In some classes they would occasionally put their palms up, in others they would now and then use a palms down gesture and in others they would sometimes wag their finger at the audience. The student group was tested for content retention after each lesson.

         The results were as follows:

             - Palms up lectures: 84% recall

             - Palms down lectures: 52% recall

             - Wagging finger sessions: 28% recall and some listeners walk out.

The conclusion from this study is that lecturers' hand gestures can influence the percentage of listeners' retention.

         Just as with voice tones we can distinguish body language communication along an approachable to credible continuum. This involves both head and hands:

         Approachability is demonstrated by holding your palms up and nodding your head. Nodding is a natural action when listening to people as it shows that you are attentive and encourages the speaker to continue the interaction. You can use these approachable gestures when inviting pupils to participate in a discussion or ask questions after your explanations.

I tried this out in the context of a round table at a teachers' conference. It was question time for the floor and there was lull in audience participation so a silence ensued. In order to encourage them to start taking part again I stood up with palms down and said' “Any questions?” There was no response. Then I realised that I had given the wrong signal with palms down, so I stood up again with my palms upturned this time and said in the waviest voice I could muster, “Any questions?” Within seconds two hands from the audience shot up and we were back in play.

To practise approachability you can copy this straightforward performance in class and notice how it gets results.

         Credible mode is shown by keeping your head still and holding the palms of your hands downwards.  This signals that you are sending the messages: I do not want  interruptions and I mean what I say. Occasions such as the start of a session or when you want to focus attention are the times to use the credible stance. Setting homework is another instance for the credible approach. When you are instructing the group adopting a credible posture is the recommended approach. Being approachable at this time may send the message that the tasks are optional and you could find some pupils uncooperative. This is due to your non-verbal mismanagement.

         Using both approaches appropriately is charisma. Try setting the next homework tasks in a credible fashion and then changing to approachable mode to elicit questions and ensure full understanding.


         The Cardinal Points

         When making hand gestures in class it is important to be aware of what you are unconsciously signalling.

On one occasion I was the teacher of two classes of teenagers who had the same academic level. Their classrooms were next to each other, separated by a wall. One morning I was returning some corrected essays to group A and I mentioned that they had performed well, in fact much better than others. At this point I unconsciously gestured to the wall which separated their classroom from group B. Some pupils interpreted this as a sign that I considered them to be more academically successful than those in group B. A group lost no time in going round to tell B group. However much I later tried to answer questions about the supposed comparison with group A, I lost group B's trust for several months. They understood that my expectations of them were lower than that of their peers and they did not appreciate it. This was all due to inadequate gesturing.

         When  gesturing in class be aware that there are four main areas:

                            > ME: pointing towards yourself

                            > YOU: signalling towards the group

                            > THIRD POINT: the board, visual aids, screen, a book...

                            > OUTSIDE: anywhere not in the classroom

         Gesturing towards ME, oneself, is a useful way of maintaining attention since you are putting yourself forward as the main speaker, as opposed to inviting group participation in the approachable YOU gesture.

         While using the YOU motion remind yourself that you are giving not only an invitation to participate but also underlining what you are saying. Get used to accompanying this gesture with positive remarks about the group and, while stating the negative comments, send them OUTSIDE.

         The THIRD POINT is a useful halfway place between ME and YOU. The latter are personal references, while third point is impersonal. Teachers can use it as support for a credible approach because it will not affect the personal relationship with the group. If you need to call a pupil's waning attention to the content at hand you can look, not at the person in question but at your workbook and say, “Even John can see that we are on page six exercise four”  You have focused John, not by giving eye contact which might seem aggressively personal but by directing his attention to the impersonal content, thus short circuiting face-to-face conflict. You have also avoided turning group attention to misbehaviour, thus focusing on what you want.

         Instructions such as homework, classroom rules and content overviews are candidates for third point visual displays since what is written, apart from being clearly visible, is more credible. You can thus introduce work to be done in a top down, impersonal manner and this allows you to retain a positive personal relationship with the group.

          Teacher Focus

         Linked to the ME/YOU focal points is the question of where teachers focus their own attention. The ME focus is internal and the YOU towards the group. In computer talk these two directions are called downtime and uptime. When you boot up your computer the machine takes a moment or two to self-check, update your antivirus and get the operating system ready for your input. This is downtime. The machine is not available for external stimulation and concentrates on its own internal processing. Uptime occurs when the computer is ready for your use. It becomes interactive.

         Both approaches are closely related to Gardner's model of multiple intelligences. Daniel Goleman fused two of these intelligences, interpersonal and intrapersonal into a new model he called emotional intelligence. Downtime is when we are inside using our intrapersonal intelligence to understand our personal reactions to outside reality; uptime corresponds to interpersonal intelligence which we use for understanding others. Teachers normally have an evolved emotional intelligence. It is what motivates them to work with people.

         It is recommended for those in the teaching profession to remain in uptime throughout their classes. You avoid internal dialogue by maintaining attention on the behavioural feedback you are getting from the group and acting on it.

          Location and Learning

         According to a study quoted by Pease & Pease motivation in class may not be the primary enabler for learning. This research suggests that something as simple as the position of pupils in the class group may be the prime element in enabling learning. The study found that depending on pupils' places in the classroom they remembered more or less of the information imparted by the teacher. The retention data is summarised in the following chart:


Teaching position

         The numbers represent the retention percentages of pupils who were in those positions in class. It is clear that those in bold print remembered a higher number of items than the others. The study is named the funnel effect after the outline in which these pupils appear within the class grouping.

         The importance of these results lies in the fact that they underline how position can affect understanding and memorisation of content in a classroom. It means that pupils with a poorer academic record could be placed within the funnel in order to improve their output. It is worth experimenting with class positions to test whether or not they have this enabling effect. It also underlines the use of a horseshoe, half circle, grouping when possible.

          Kinaesthetic learners' preferences

         These learners tend to speak slowly. They learn by doing and prefer hands on approaches. They have to move to learn and so appear fidgety in class. They suffer from short attention spans.

         Ken Robinson, the education expert, tells the story of one K student and how she came to shine. To get an insight into kinaesthesia in others it is worth listening to his tale.


        In order to allow for open-minded and creative management teachers are recommended to breathe abdominally throughout their classes. This may not come naturally, especially in situations of conflict so here's a visualisation you can practise which will quickly allow you to achieve low breathing quickly.

         In order to calibrate that you are performing the exercise properly while you are doing it put one hand on your solar plexus and the other on the opposite shoulder.

Think of a place where you felt comfortable in the past. You are going to recreate it mentally now.

In your mind's eye look round the place you have chosen and visualise what is in the foreground, the background and towards the sides of your picture. Look up. What do you see? Now look down and describe your vision. Add the colours you remember or want and make your image bright.

Now listen carefully to the sounds you can hear in your favourite place. Are they high pitched or low? Loud or soft? Are they far off or near? Adjust the sound to suit yourself. Add background music if you wish.

Step out of your picture. Move it back. What do you feel about the place you have visited?

Come back out of your reverie gradually.

         Now you can measure if your visualisation has been performed correctly. Notice which of your hands is moving. If the hand on your shoulder is moving then you are breathing high and you should do the exercise again. If the hand on your solar plexus is moving slowly in and out, congratulations, you are breathing low.

         Notice that you can now use this visualisation to get quickly into a relaxed breathing pattern. In the same way as you began to breathe abdominally by building up a picture you can induce low breathing rapidly by evoking this image at any time.


         Calibrating group breathing

         In the same way as it is recommended that the teacher breathes abdominally during lessons it is positive for pupils to keep breathing low and remain alertly relaxed for optimal learning. Those who feel threatened are on the defensive, breathe high through nerves and are not open to learning.  The only time you can be sure that a group is breathing low and thus feeling open and relaxed is when they are laughing. However it is also true that teachers did not join the profession to entertain their pupils in a comic show. So how else do we know when our class is breathing low?

         Visually the group will appear rather still when they are on the job and breathing low. Stressful breathing patterns are visible through lots of uncoordinated movements and a lack of visual harmony.

         As a corollary to that pupils will show fluid movements when unstressed and open to learning. On the other hand the class's kinaesthetics will appear as jerky and unbalanced.

         You can expect fluidity of speech from low-breathing pupils but lack of fluency in those breathing high. This is to be anticipated because high breathing physically restricts the flow of breath, crippling smooth speech patterns. It also has the effect of reducing oxygen flow to the brain so that processing is weakened and comprehension impaired.

How to calibrate group breathing patterns


Low breathing behaviours

High breathing behaviours











       Breathing also indicates the quality of relationship. When you calibrate your group's breathing remember the following patterns:

When the listeners' breathing is Low, the communicator is trusted.

When the listeners' breathing is High, trust in the communicator is Low.


 Abdominal breathing

         In his book on emotional intelligence Goleman tells the story of an academically bright student called Jason. He had the goal of getting into a top university and so strived for the highest marks. In one physics exam his score was less than an A and he blamed this on the teacher. The upshot was that Jason confronted his physics master on the subject and ended up stabbing him with a knife in the collarbone.

         The question this raised in Goleman's mind was to figure out how a high-achieving student could suddenly turn so irrational. His answer was that academic intelligence does not measure emotional life. Jason's academic record gave no hint of his emotional imbalance.

         Understanding how the brain is structured is helpful in explaining how we react in different circumstances. According to the model of neurologist Paul MacLean, director of the Brain Evolution and Behaviour Lab in Poolesville, Maryland, our brain is composed not of 1 unity but 3. Each represents an evolutionary level.  MacLean calls it the triune brain and it has evolved over time:

At the base of the brain there is the cerebellum which is the structure that we share with reptiles. The next layer up is the limbic system which all mammals possess. The top slither is what makes us human: the neocortex.

         Each brain is connected to the others by nerves but appears to operate as an autonomous system. This is what happens in a situation of conflict.

In one class of 14 years olds I was teaching the pupils were on task. I was going round helping individuals out. Suddenly I noticed that one boy had moved from the back of the classroom to the front and was leaning over a special needs child. As I approached the special needs boy told me that the other had taken his scissors. I asked why. The response was that the intention was to use the scissors on the owner. Slightly taken aback I ordered the misbehaver to return the scissors and get back to his seat. He retreated but in a slow motion fashion doing the pimp roll to demonstrate that he was complying but disagreeing. I encouraged myself to breathe low in order to be open to strategies for resolving the situation. By this time the whole class was alert to the conflict. Nobody turned to look at the misbehaver, however, because he was a bully and they were afraid of any consequences.

         I repeated the order of getting back to his place and sitting down. He went back but then remained standing behind his chair. So I said, “Stand up!” He was in two minds about what to do, shifting uneasily. I then addressed the whole class referring to the misbehaver still standing and saying that I liked to see obedient pupils. His mates meanwhile were urging him to sit down but of course I had put him in a double bind. No matter what he did he was complying. After a minute of this stand-off he could take it no more and rushed headlong out the door. I told the group to note that this was called self-expulsion and instructed them to carry on working. I never had any more trouble with the misbehaver in question.

         In brain terms what happened in this disturbance was that the boy's thinking brain shut down until he was left with the reptilian choice of fight or flight. He opted for flight. If I hadn't been consciously breathing abdominally I might have been caught in the same black and white choice since my brain is structured in the same was as his. Teachers lead best by remembering to breathe low, thus keeping fresh oxygen flowing to the brain and so maintaining their options open.