The Can You Hear Me? book tour is – appropriately – more virtual and about podcasts and bloggers than it is with the real world. But recently I had the privilege to give a couple of talks in London (after the first one in Boston) on the book and good fun it was. I learned three things from the trip. First, that the Irish are as hospitable as the cliché suggests. Shout out to John Keating who came from Dublin to hear one of the talks and insisted on buying the first round of drinks even though (at the first bar) there was no Guinness to be had. I think that means he traveled the second-greatest distance to attend the talk. The prize for the longest-distance traveled, of course, goes to the speaker.
Second, I learned what great passion there is to discuss the topic of Can You Hear Me? All the audiences so far have been eager to talk about this decade-long unregulated huge social experiment in virtual communications, and everyone shares at least some of the concerns I’ve raised in the book. Virtual communications are here to stay; we can’t get along without them now. Global commerce, for one thing, is dependent on them. And most of us are more addicted to our social media platforms of choice than we would readily admit out loud.
And yet, we are also increasingly struck by the paradox I talk about in the book, that the more connected we become virtually, the more isolated we often feel. We’re concerned about the next generation and what that isolation means for them, since they’ve always only known a world with virtual communications. And many of us are taking small steps to limit our virtual time and to ensure that we continue to invest in what humans need most: face-to-face time with other humans.
Third, a moment and an insight from the real world. I was taking a brief break between podcasts and talks at one of my favorite bookstores, Waterstone’s, in Trafalgar Square (Foyle’s was a little too far away that day), sitting in the café having a cup of tea. At the next table was an older women, with long white hair, who had her back turned to me. She was discussing something of importance, clearly, with her younger companion, who might have been a granddaughter. I could tell because she was turned slightly in her chair, just enough that I could see her hands gesturing as she held forth.
And they were wonderfully expressive. I decided that she must have been a dancer, or an actor, or perhaps an artist, as she sculpted the air with her hands, clearly demarking one part of the topic from another. She would leave one hand elegantly positioned in space, and bring the other hand to it, and then bring them both down in a half-circle to some base position just at table height.
I was transfixed, as a student of body language. After a while, I decided to try to sleuth out what she was talking about. Alas, the limits of body language meant that, without words, all I could tell was something important had happened. She had thought deeply about the event or condition, and was very emphatically predicting an outcome, a future. She was taking her young listener from point A to point B. And she was attempting to reassure her at the same time.
The care and attention were beautiful. At last, as I was leaving, my tea finished, on impulse and feeling very American, I turned back to her and introduced myself as a student of body language who was curious for anything she was willing to tell me about what she had been saying, because I had admired her gestural language so much.
Apparently, I didn’t frighten her excessively, because she calmly told me her name (Leigh) and said that she had been discussing a family situation which had been very stressful, but for which there was now going to be a safe resolution. I thanked her, apologized for the interruption, and went on my way.
The current neuro-scientific take on human brains basically sees them as prediction machines, looking a bit into the future, comparing it to the past, and endeavoring to keep the attached human safe in that projected future – and that attached human’s loved ones. Here was a vivid example of the human mind at work, as evidenced by the gesturing, doing precisely that.
The takeaway? If you’ve ever been told or taught to minimize your gestures, because less in the way of gesturing is somehow more, then it’s time to reject that thinking. Gestures are the way we embody our thinking. Leigh’s elegant gestures allowed her to clearly delineate one state – the former family situation – and to contrast it with another – the future, better way things were going to turn out. Hers was an act at once of persuasion and reassurance. It wouldn’t have worked as well had she sat on her hands. And it certainly wouldn’t have stopped a passing student of body language in his tracks if it hadn’t been so fully realized.
In the half-virtual, half-face-to-face world we inhabit now, we need to invest more, not less, in our gestures.
If you’re interested in having me talk to your group or on your podcast about the ideas in Can You Hear Me?, give me a shout at email@example.com
Photo Credit: Lucy Williams