First, go watch this video from Stanford Graduate School of Business, called Make Body Language Your Super Power.
Did you go watch it? Because I really want you to have your own opinions and not just see what I’ve primed you to see.
Okay, what did you notice?
My professional opinion is: oh my god they are so freaking adorable, they’re like puppies and I want to eat them up.
Where to start… okay, so there’s an immediate laugh as we hear about gesture as an effective presentation tool, demonstrated using the most unnatural and awkward looking gestures I’ve seen in, maybe, oh, ever. By minute 4, I already love these people for life.
Why do I love them, when they all suck so very, very badly at body language? Like, if Siri and C3P0 tried having phone sex, that level of bad?
Because of what they actually ARE saying with their bodies.
They’re saying, “We studied so hard. We’re good students, who trust our professors and enjoy our classmates. We’re pushing ourselves beyond our limits, and trying like fun to learn this strange, exotic language called Business Gesture.”
The give, the show, the chop, palms down, no pointing, congruency, creativity, power position, audience as hero – this unit gave them some of the most popular contemporary public speaking advice available, and by God they’re learning it.
And we in the audience are learning that these techniques are completely artificial.
Maybe we’ll get used to this particular lexicon of “Business Gesture”, like we got used to politicians doing the knuckle-point. Like we got used to the inhuman vocal cadences of newscasters of the 1980’s, or the Life Magazine styles of the Jackie O media set, or baseball’s wonderfully bizarre radio announcers of the 40’s, or the fake-English Received Pronunciation accents and steamy over-the-shoulder glances of Golden Age Hollywood.
Maybe the chop, the give and the show are like the selfie ducklips of contemporary business meetings.
If so, dump them now.
Here’s how they were created: someone watched people who were passionate and persuasive, and tried to analyze what they saw. Ducklips aren’t sexy; ducklips are people “doing” sexy. Knuckle pointing isn’t authoritative; it’s people “doing” authoritative. It’s what actors call an outside-in attempt, and it comes off looking like either a little kid wearing mommy’s boots or an alien trying to pass for hyoo-mawn. (“We’re from France.”)
For direct address presentation, we want to know what you ACTUALLY look like when you’re passionate, and you know what you’re doing, and you’re committed to sharing an idea.
What does Matt really look like when he’s shocked about a video? How does Colin really move when he wants everyone in the room to hear him? What does Jeong Joon do when he’s explaining something crucial? And what does Jennifer look like when she’s really interacting with her audience?
Happily, we do get a tiny taste of that last one, and it’s delightful. At 12:14, Jennifer actually does what she’s telling us to do: she interacts with the audience. And in the moment of her true listening and being surprised by the answer (amethyst? WTF??), she suddenly pops into being real.
It’s like night and day.
We only see that kind of present moment truth in one other place, back at 2:20 when Matt screws up, and for just a moment, his gesture becomes real: spontaneous, appropriate, balanced, grounded, fully extended, coordinated, and targeted.
Sometimes we humans get it right by getting it wrong.
So did I learn to make body language my superpower, like the video title says? No, but I did learn:
- Audience interaction absolutely works, even if you’re kind of a novice.
- A fumble can actually improve your game.
- These grad students are flipping awesome and should be hired immediately.
Gawd bless ‘em. And may no one ever unearth any video from my own graduate school days.