telling the truth with authentic gesture

by rebecca on July 27, 2012

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Dr. Nick Morgan is grateful he can cross his arms when he wants to be left alone, or that his lips turn naturally upward in a smile of welcome when his wife walks in the room. There was a time, just after his 17th birthday that he had to make a conscious effort for the everyday miracle of an authentic gesture.

Nick fractured his skull in a tobogganing accident at age 17 that left him in a coma for 3 days. Along with many other things, he had to relearn what it was like to shrug his shoulders when expressing that simple thought, “I don’t know.” Because he spent a formative time in his life incapable of authentic gesture, he now has a profound awareness of how to help people get their body signals to match their intention.

Nick Morgan helps people become more visible in their own lives.

Most of us don’t have a severe injury that would disassociate our gestures from our words. But plenty of people need to speak in front of a group or ask for a raise. At these times of stress our bodies can betray us.

I talk with clients all the time. In the beginning, I was nervous about how I was perceived. My nerves got in the way of allowing me to make an effective connection. My clients got a mixed message. My words said I cared about them. My body language told them I wanted to get away as fast as possible.

Nerves create a schism in our system. You walk into your boss’s office and suddenly you’re sweating more than Nixon and your face is as blotchy as a sunburned giraffe. Your body language is screaming “I don’t belong here!” even as you lay out the evidence of 3 years of increased profits you brought to the company. You produce 6 letters from co-workers verifying everything from how you clean the communal fridge monthly to how you are the peace-maker when meetings get out of hand. You hear yourself whisper the words, “I think I deserve a raise.”

Not surprisingly, your boss shows you the door.

At times like these, Nick Morgan reveals how his children learned about the world. He marvels as he remembers them reaching, grabbing for things and, if they were lucky, getting to put something into their mouth. “We got to know the world through gesture.” It’s our first language and it will always be the language we trust most intuitively.

80% of communication originates from body language, asserts Dr. Morgan. Getting that right is crucial to connecting effectively. It’s why your boss dismissed your sweaty, giraffe face and my clients didn’t trust me in the beginning. Our nerves were talking louder than our authentic self.

But it doesn’t work to simply try harder.

“When your conscious mind directs your gestures they look artificial,” says Dr. Morgan. We sense the fake, painted on gestures of a politician when their gestures are lagging. Instead, Dr. Morgan tries to get his clients to think about the emotion of what they’re saying. When they connect emotionally, they have the charismatic appeal of a baby.

Who can resist a baby? With babies there is no disconnect. A baby doesn’t take time to think about how they are being perceived. Nervousness has no place.

Dr. Morgan lays out the pathway of genuine communication thus: intention – (inspires) – gesture – (which inspires) – thought – (which ultimately forms our) – words.

Contrast this with Nervous Nixons who begin with a thought – (that inspires) – words – (and to that a person adds) – gesture. When gesture comes last it can’t help but look phony.

Dr. Morgan found, through studying the path of his own injury and subsequent neural science, that when we relax into our intentions and concentrate on the emotion, everything becomes easy. Nerves calm. Gesture grows from an organic place and words flow.

When I simply listen to a client who is struggling with an inability to balance childcare with time for her mother who is lonely since her father died, I relax. My heart naturally goes out to her. My body language flows as easily as my words and I am as magnetic as a baby laughing at peekaboo.

As you go to talk with your boss and allow yourself to sink into the many memories of how you’ve made a difference, your shoulders instantly relax. You have no panic to prove yourself, but rather you present letters from colleagues with ease and a light-hearted chuckle about your penchant for a clean refrigerator.
“You need to be very comfortable with your message. If you’re not, your body will betray you,” contends this master communicator. Connect the emotion with the content. When you see a large crowd or an intimidating supervisor, your initial impulse is to shut down. This is natural.

When preparing to face a situation that causes you stress, notice your thoughts. If you are filling your head with nervous chatter, “I’m gonna blow this,” or “He’s sure to find out how incompetent I am,” begin to connect to why you want to be there. When you connect to the emotional juice of your topic, nerves and nay saying have no room.

Like many treasures in life, we value most what we realize we can lose. Nick Morgan took his own personal struggle with gesture and created a pathway for people to overcome nerves or shyness. The founder of Public Words, Dr. Morgan’s clients range from politicians to business professionals who struggle to stay relaxed when the pressure mounts.


When has your body betrayed you? Do you sweat or shrink when you get nervous? Who cleans the office fridge where you work, and have you thanked them recently?


It is my belief that gratitude is more than a thankful heart at the end of the day. For many, like Dr. Morgan, gratitude has inspired a life of devotion. I’m offering a class in November that studies gratitude and a host of people who practice it. Want to know more? Join me when Dr. Morgan will tell about his most influential encounter with gesture and a single individual.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Margaret Reyes Dempsey July 29, 2012 at 7:39 pm

Great post! I find that I’m self-assured and confident in work situations. That isn’t always the case on a personal level. When I analyze it, I see that in work mode, I don’t take things personally. As a consultant, it’s my job to figure out what my client’s needs are and then deliver a solution that fills that need. I’m always thinking win-win.

On a personal, social level, sometimes I feel a bit intimidated in situations that press those “long ago” buttons, if you know what I mean. And I know you do. 😉 These are the times I have to channel my business side and remember that it’s no different. Everyone has a need. So, instead of focusing on my shyness, or whatever I’m feeling in the moment, I find someone who looks even more ill at ease than I am and strike up a conversation. Safety in numbers. 🙂 That usually pumps me up sufficiently to break out of my shell even more.

Once the ice is broken, the authentic gestures rush in.


rebecca July 31, 2012 at 4:22 pm

“Once the ice is broken, the authentic gestures rush in.” Isn’t it true? And I find such kinship with you that sometimes it’s harder to be “authentic” in the smaller spaces than in that big, public forum. For me, it’s always about tapping into my own vulnerability, because in that space I touch the part of my humanity that connects to everyone else.


Jennifer August 2, 2012 at 2:35 pm

What a fantastic recap of essential information, Rebecca. Thank you for reaching out to Dr. Morgan and for sharing this so eloquently. I love the whispering-to-the-boss story — oh, how often that happens, both in workplace and at home. One of several things I take with me is the concept that Intention must always come first in all interactions. Now, when I get nervous, I can stop and ask myself about intention and then re-set the interaction.


rebecca August 2, 2012 at 4:50 pm

Jennifer, I’m so glad you captured Dr. Morgan’s prime message: nerves are calmed by focusing our intention. When I’m nervous my focus is on myself. I can’t think of a time that serves me when I’m trying to make an authentic connection. As soon as I make the connection to the other person, or to the material I want to share…viola! the nerves calm and I make a heartfelt connection.

I also love that you point to this happening at home. I know I’m tending to it today in my house 🙂


Beatriz Alemar August 3, 2012 at 6:09 pm

Relaxing into your emotion and letting it flow. How wonderful. I get so on edge sometimes when speaking to certain people. Others, like my clients, it just flows like a baby. The difference? Definitely intention. I just didn’t know it until now.

What a powerful reminder of how your body can amplify or destroy your message! Intention > gesture > thoughts > words. I need to remember this each time I speak publicly (or even privately in intense moments).


rebecca August 8, 2012 at 4:20 pm

I’m glad Dr. Morgan’s formula helped to bring some clarity for you, Beatriz. He is CERTAINLY very dedicated to tuning into the body to find the authentic message. I think that’s where so much connection lives. Thanks for visiting!


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