Check out Part 1 of this series on our blog.
“Alright, I’m going to have you come up, and since you were next, let’s have you as well.”
Alan Alda was pointing. Right. At. Me.
Though I’ve been a youth swim coach (and thus “performed” and spoken in front of many swimmers and parents) for well over a decade, public-speaking still terrifies me. Much less being called up spontaneously in front of a hundred or so others, to demonstrate improv. Me, doing improv.
The other guy that had been called up was a student at Guilford. Alan asked us to identify as an “A” and “B” person. I was “A.” A was supposed to perform gestures, and B had to follow as if they were a mirror, reflecting A’s performance. I had no idea what gestures to do, and ultimately ended up with the swim dance. My poor counterpart barely kept up, and my body crumpled with giggles after only thirty seconds. Alan stopped us.
He asked me to identify what could help my B friend to mirror better, and I suggested better eye contact and moving more slowly. Alan agreed, and we proceeded. My nerves got the best of me, and my fear of the audience prevailed over my desire to help my B friend. Alan stopped us again. He had us switch, and through a little more time in the exercise, I (as person B now) was able to mirror my friend better.
Ultimately, Alan let us dwell in this mirror exercise to the point in which neither of us was leading. We maintained focus, eye contact, and eerily enough, we created a harmonious and continuous mirroring motion that we apparently agreed upon but had never discussed.
Cooperation: A New Side to Communication
How often have we held conversations, asked questions, or participated in something with no regard for the person or people we are interacting with? How many times have we let fear creep in without even noticing? This exercise was a profound moment for me, both in that Alan Alda was actually coaching (cue the inner fan-girl screams), but also in recognizing that there was a whole new side to communication that I might have been missing all these years. Instead of just talking at each other, this kind of cooperative communication consists of inviting one another in, and having no agenda other than to work together.
Alan Alda demonstrated another example of this later in the evening, when the full Bryan Series talk began at the Greensboro Coliseum. Guilford College’s President, Jane Fernandes, came on stage to introduce Alan. She talked about meeting him earlier that day on campus, and how she first engaged him by telling him that it was nice to meet him. More specifically, she used sign language as well as speaking verbally, because President Fernandes is deaf.
But Alan signed back.
President Fernandes was caught off guard. She had never had a Bryan Series speaker engage her in her “native” language before, and she was moved by this gesture. She was invited into their conversation in a way she had never quite experienced before, and because of this, she and Alan were able to have a conversation that dived deeper than she could have ever thought might happen with someone she had just met.
I loved this idea of inviting others in. I appreciated Alan’s seemingly small points and efforts, because in reality, they create a much larger sense of belonging. I got to tell him so later than night, when I met Alan one last time at his book-signing after the talk. He remembered me too! Even late at night after meeting hundreds of people, he was able to stay relational and in tune with our conversation. He had no agenda other than to help me learn and grow.
So often, we are taught only to meet people in the middle with our communication. But why not meet our counterpart on their side of the bridge? I believe the best marketing is not just about trying to sell products to a consumer. It’s about reaching out to your audience, and connecting to them in a way that helps improve their lives. You might just find that you establish a more successful, long-term relationship than you previously could have imagined. I see this in client meetings with the Tigermoth team. Their clients are businesses and organizations that make a real difference in people’s lives.Through purposeful client communication, Tigermoth takes the time to listen to what they’re all about and craft messages that are truly meaningful.