On Talking With Our Hands

April 14, 2010 · 13 comments

Quick: how many people seated in the picture below are NOT interacting online?


Nope: the lady in yellow (Brenda of Vision Arts Communications) actually was on her blackberry but had just set it down for a second to attend to an itchy ear. Even three of the six and a half people standing up at the back of the room are ticking away on their midgi-keyboards, and they’re in transit.

My “aha” moment — born in hindsight by reviewing the photos* — from yesterday’s New Marketing Experience conference? Social media has expanded, not diminished, our ability and perhaps even our desire to talk with our hands.

Fingers on keyboards = digital communication.

Maybe that’s why we’ll still show up in person, real time, and spend a day listening, interacting, questioning and sharing a ham sandwich with complete strangers at a conference. In spite of the ubiquitous keyboard, we all still need to get out once in a while and talk with our hands the old-fashioned way.


We don’t show up for the gum and water, but maybe we’re hoping someone will slow things down for us if they can actually see us sucking our finger and tilting our head at “what everyone already knows.”

I’m mostly (sorta) hip and I don’t know what five of those icons are about, and I’m only guessing the “W” stands for Wikipedia.

I just looked it up, and no matter how far I tilt my head and chew on my thumb, I still can’t tell.


So while chewing on them doesn’t necessarily enlighten when you’re on your own, in a crowd, digits communicate.

Seriously, when mapped to that grin, Brian Solis‘ pointing finger says it all: “Look! Rick bought my book! You should buy one too! I’m so exhausted from jet-lag, I’m afraid I’m going to start drooling and singing “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Boys!”**


Fingers are great for verbal short cuts. “What’s this?” asks the index finger. EJ’s answer about content management is a bit more complicated, but easily enough communicated with all ten digits in play.


At live conferences, even “we’re SO hip we say ‘poop’ from the podium” social media conferences, finger extensions (known as “pens”) are still used to point to charts where the colors aren’t showing up properly on the LCD projector.

I like that. It keeps it real and let’s us know that behind the suave “playing in the big kids sandbox” veneer that sometimes gets painted online, people are still just mortals who struggle and flub their way through life. Tom Webster of Edison Research proved the point (sorry): when you have great content, one or two of life’s real time gotchas are easily overcome with poise and good humor.


Tim Hayden of Blue Clover had no idea how much fun I was having with his accidental shadow puppets.


I’m not just poking fun at other people here. I have my own hand language without which I simply cannot speak, even when I type. (Joanna of Blue Sky Factory was very patient as I explained everything I didn’t know.) In that case, instead of using my hands to talk, I just transfer the signals through my eyebrows.

And no, I will not be using the webcam feature on my Mac anytime soon.


There are some forms of talking with your hands that can only happen in person. (Hands on demo by Mike McAllen of Grass Shack Events and Media in the gold jacket.)


And watching Natanya of Powered hold her microphone and talk told me tons about her that I’d have missed even through 10,000 blog postings or more.


Not surprisingly, one of the most successful virtual marketing guys in the room, Mike “Tony Soprano” Damphousse of Green Leads, kept one hand on the microphone and the other in his pocket the entire time he was on stage. Apparently, it IS possible to speak and not flap about like you’re trying to wave off a swarm of killer bees. But I’m trusting it’s not a skill set that’s necessary in order to find your way in the wild and woolly world of online social media.

* That’s what “storyscaping” is, BTW: taking the raw images of a moment or event and finding the story possibilities hiding in plain sight. Then through selective cropping, good writing, and sometimes a cartoon or two, we scoop up the good bits and arrange them in pleasant lines. People and events become retroactively more interesting, and often better looking, as a result. So, I guess that makes us historians. Huh… didn’t see that one coming.

**Brian Solis’ book is really interesting. You should buy one, if for nothing else than the brilliant insight on p. 112 about “Liking: Microacts of Appreciation Yield Macro Impacts.” I’ll give you two sentences here, and then you’ll have to buy it yourself to discover the potential for impact within social networks.

Liking is the epitome of the relationship-based culture powering the authenticity, ethics, and reciprocal interactions on the Social Web. It’s a powerful form of microrecognition, which serves as an approving, motivating, and uplifting nod from someone else.

If you enjoyed this post, share it with your friends! Click the “Share It” button just below, select your social media community of choice… and… doink! You’re the instant sharer of enjoyable stuff. People like that.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Amos Ho October 17, 2013 at 5:14 pm

Wow that was strange. I just wrote an really long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up.
Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.
Anyways, just wanted to say fantastic blog!


EJ Melzer April 19, 2010 at 9:53 pm

Hi Rick & Kathy,

Interesting and fun. It really makes a nice story from a series of unrelated pictures. Happy that my hands were able to contribute to this.

Cheers, -EJ


Joanna Lawson-Matthew April 19, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Hi Rick and Kathy,
Love your post … so many oh-so-attractive photos there! It was great meeting you both and learning more about the world of photography. I’m looking forward to learning more as I read through your blogs.

Hope to see you again soon (Ad:tech?)!


P.S. The W on our board stands for WordPress!


Charlie April 16, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Would of loved to been with you two at that conference – bet I would of learned a ton! STILL trying to learn to tweet, link in and friend – it’s exhausting.


rickandkathy April 16, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Hey Charlie!!

Yeah, there really is a lot to keep up with, and even if you do get a grip on some of it, it’s all changing so fast it can bring on those little cartoon tweety birds around your head. If you are built to learn by reading, though, pick up Brian Solis’ book “Engage.” It’s a fabulous resource: the whole first half is a bunch of chapters called “New Media University.” It’s a thorough primer on what stuff is and how it works. The second part is more the philosophy of branding and personality, and how to think about marketing in social media. All really good stuff!


mike mcallen April 15, 2010 at 11:07 pm

What a fun post! I am very hands on. But being around Tom Webster makes me “handsy” it was great meeting you at #NWE10.



rickandkathy April 16, 2010 at 9:30 am

Ha! You made me think of that old term “glad handing” but I think it means something else. It should mean “putting an encouraging hand on someone’s shoulder and giving a gentle pat of gladness.”


Sue Anne Reed April 15, 2010 at 10:49 pm

Great post! Bummed I didn’t get a chance to talk to you in person at NME. I’ve been realizing that I’ve been standing with my hands on my hips a lot lately. I typically don’t have pants with pockets where I can put my hands, and I’ve also been trying to consciously not stand and talk with someone with my arms folded, but what winds up happening is then I wind up standing with my hands on my hips. It’s amazing how much we think of these things and the image that they are portraying to other people.


rickandkathy April 16, 2010 at 9:28 am

Hi Sue Anne,

Yeah… so many people. one day… Hope to catch up with you sometime down the road.

Cheers, R&K


Mike Damphousse, Green Leads April 15, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Rick & Kathy, I have to admit, the hand in the pocket is the George Dubya Bush tip for not flapping around on stage. He used to purposefully hold the podium. I didn’t have one, so I had to improvise. You get me spun up on a topic I love though, those hands are flying.

Great to have met you…you gave me a take-away-idea. Thanks!


rickandkathy April 15, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Hey Mike!

It’s a great tip! See? You just never know where a good idea will come from… Speaking of which, will you be publishing your conference take-away idea somewhere the rest of us can find it? Would love to know what it is.

Cheers, Rick and Kathy


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Louise April 14, 2010 at 7:31 pm

I think the “W” is Wordpress, home of many blogs.


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