When you spend a lot of time in places where you don’t speak the language, you pick up on a different level of communication going on. In Italy, Spain, or South America, for example, you quickly work out how much is gestured and left unsaid. I’ve talked before about the odd uses the corporate world has made of the idea of body language (mostly about control and power), but gesture can also be a force for good. Whenever I give a presentation I feel that my hands are a second voice. They emphasize, include, shape, and mix in emotion. Best of all, I find that hand gestures often set the pace. You should see my son, Ben, communicating. He’s lived, worked, and holidayed in Italy, married a beautiful Roman, Clarissa, and is bringing up Anglo/Italian Stella. Now there is a man who speaks with his hands!
I’m not suggesting that if you speak to a crowd you wave your arms like demented windmills, but I do think that studying your actions in a mirror and practicing really helps you communicate better. Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago, Susan Goldin-Meadow, will back me up. Her work suggests that hand gestures actually help us shape our words and ideas as well as the way we articulate them. After all, we do experience the world, not just talk about it. Counting on our fingers to do sums is a simple example of the connections between ideas and gestures. A study found that 90 percent of children who were taught maths with gestures could recall the lesson three weeks later. The control group who went without gestures only managed 33 percent. TV shows like Sesame Street had the action/idea connection worked out in the 1970s. And it’s a connection that this spot draws on brilliantly.
If you ever doubted the power of the five senses in business, get over it right now. All the senses are direct portals to the mind and none is more critical than touch. Wonderfully, the air guitar version of touch – the hand gesture – is right up there with the rest.