As I’m writing this I’m aware of a conversation happening on the table next to me between an older man and a lady with her baby. The baby is sitting up; bright, alert, fascinated by the world around her (especially the gentleman’s glasses). How different from her new born self just 6 or so months previously, but also how far from who she will grown into. I am the proud dad of an early school-er and a teenager, and am constantly fascinated by the way in which they communicate, and how their communication has evolved over time. A far cry (pardon the pun) from their beginning when all they could do was cry. But even that is quite amazing in its own way. An 'un-ignorable' act of communication that demands supplication, though sleep-deprived new parents would probably appreciate some more specificity about what the baby needs, they understand very quickly that there is a need.
But how quickly these forming communication skills change. At three weeks old (more or less) a human baby does something amazing: it smiles. This is an action which we take so much for granted, which many of us will perform daily – often without even being consciously aware of doing so. Yet it is far more complex than we would believe, having health benefits for both the giver and recipient of the smile. Smiling is an act of non-verbal communication that tells people looking at us something about our emotional state, but a smile is nuanced, whilst usually indicating happiness can convey an array of emotional complexity depending on subtle physical differences and context; nostalgia, whimsy, sadness, affection, trepidation, are all within the remit of the smile. The smile we bestow on a child is very different from that which we might direct towards a partner or a work colleague.
For me the fact that our very first acts are of inter-personal communication, tells us something about who we are as a species. The actions of newly born animals, say something about the lives that they will go on to live. Animals that need to run to survive will start doing so within hours of being born, baby whales are born swimming, because if they didn’t they would drown. Taken in this context our ‘survival skills’ are acts of communication. Firstly that act of communication that helps to ensure we are going to get the essential things we need to survive (warmth, food, sleep and love) then being comfortable. But very rapidly we begin to develop the myriad of communication skills which will enable us to effortlessly navigate the complexity of human interaction across age, race and spoken language.
When we are presenting to a large audience, or a board of review, or a high-pressure sales pitch, something can happen to us at a deep seated biological level. Our sympathetic nervous system kicks in, adrenaline starts rushing through us with all the attendant physical symptoms that we know so well, shaky voice, rapid heart rate, fast breathing. This is a ‘lizard brain’ response to a perceived threatening situation and is hard-wired into us. It’s completely natural but can be an inconvenience when you want to appear calm and in control. If you find yourself in this situation remember this, communication is hard wired into us too. We are born to communicate, and presenting is just a type of communication. So, take a deep breath, smile, and harness your natural born communicator!