What do gestures tell us about a public speaker? We learned a lot about Joel Osteen's gestures during his interview about his response to the hurricane. Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc on the city of Houston which is the 4th largest city in the country. There was extensive flooding requiring people to be evacuated by rescue workers and helicopters. Thousands of people were in search of shelter and could not return to their homes.
The question people wanted to know was Why didn't Pastor Joel Osteen open Lakewood Church to the people of Houston? The Compaq Center has the capacity to hold 16,285 people. After much criticism on social media, the center accepted hurricane victims on Tuesday.
When Joel was interviewed by CBS TV he explained that he didn't open his center as a shelter because he was not asked by the city. He further explained that the best places for shelter were where there were already resources, supplies, and personnel on the ground. It didn't sound convincing on the surface. But he still could have salvaged his reputation by admitting the mistake and being remorseful. Instead, he pivoted to his message points and gave what seemed to be a presentation. His hands were the giveaway. He used the same wide-sweeping gestures that are part of his signature style when he is on the main stage in front of thousands of people. The CBS interview was directed to three journalists (although it was broadcast to millions of viewers). In media interviews and conversations, people gesture more naturally with their hands closer to their body.
While using wider gestures may be part of the pastor's style, it gave the impression of formality rather than intimacy and sincerity. That is not to say he was dishonest. I'll leave that to the top body language experts. The point is this. To appear sincere, your body language needs to be relaxed and appropriate to the situation. Wide gestures work well in a stadium but seem exaggerated when communicating on a television show or satellite interview. For crisis communication to be effective, it's imperative to plan your delivery as well as your message points.
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