February 8, 2023

Your Visual Connection: Colum P. Morgan

You communicate through more than just your words; your body shares the meaning of your ideas, especially the gestures you use while speaking. Whether you’re a business professional, artist, or student, anyone can benefit from tapping into the power of the six gesture types. Welcome to the Author Hour Podcast. I’m your host, Hussein Al-Baiaty. I’m joined today by author Colum Morgan, who’s here to talk about his new book, Your Visual Connection. Let’s flip through it.

Hey, everyone. What’s going on? Thanks for joining us today. I’m super excited to have this next author join us with his time today. Colum, thank you so much. I’m really excited to talk about your book and your philosophies, but definitely your experiences. Thanks for coming on the show today.

Colum P. Morgan: Hussein, thank you for having me. I’m really excited to be here. Thank you.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, man. Visual Connections, I loved it. I got into it the last, like I said, 24 hours or so. But before we get into the book, I love giving our listeners an idea of who you are, perhaps a personal background, where you grew up. Maybe someone that influenced you while you were growing up, and maybe perhaps pushed you along this trajectory of getting to know and becoming an expert in this field. Tell us a little bit about your personal background and the path of growing up.

Colum P. Morgan: Yeah. I grew up in Houston, Texas. I’m a Texas native, but I’ve lived all over the world since then. I’ve been able to travel to Europe and live in France. I’m living here in California right now. I’ve lived in Kansas, in New York. I’ve been around a lot of places. Ultimately, I found my way into performance. I started off as a singer and then went from singing into musical theater, and musical theater into legit theater, and legit theater into physical theater. Then physical theater just kept going and going and going until I got to just loving my new biomechanicals, I love the audience being able to have a curated body in front of them if that makes any sense. I followed my bliss, as Joseph Campbell said. I went off, and I studied all these really esoteric, I guess.

Texas kid that went off and explored the world in physical theater, I guess, is the shortlist of it all. Anyone who inspired me, I’ve always been very inspired by the body. I started working out very early 14, 15, 16 years old. I had the luck to work with a really great trainer out in Austin, Texas. She was able to give me a real command of my body and really show me just through weight training, just showing me how muscles are working, opposition, contrast all this stuff. From there, working with the body and performance was so easy for me. It just felt good to keep following that bliss.

Again, that joy just kept me in my body. I just wanted to know more and more about what people were seeing, how people were interpreting me, and how I could be a better communicator, be clear. When I went to Europe, I studied a lot of modalities and different theatrical processes in different ways to present to the audience. All of it really does have a visual element. It has the connection for the audience, the actor on stage, the actors on stage who are creating this curated movement, symphony of words and sounds and movements, and gestures are a huge part of that.

That’s where it came to was, in the end, well recently I guess, if we think about this as being the end. I found that there was for me a lack of information specifically for what was going on underneath my speech, because I was speaking and all this was happening underneath, like right, in my torso. I had all this stuff happening, my arms and everything. I wanted to know more about it. I went out looking and in the performance realm, there wasn’t a lot of information. I started looking in other domains. I had been studying a lot. We had been using gestures. We talked about gestures. We analyze gestures, but no one actually ever said what they were doing or like how we could use them better. That’s where science came in.

Science has been doing that recently. So I turned to science. I just started looking at what recent findings in human communication and gestures and even speech, anthropology, all of it. It’s just, everyone seems to be very interested in this subject. I was like, “This is awesome. Let’s make the connection here for the theatre artists as well.” Since we’re all performing. We’re now all on camera. Before, there were just a few people who were trained to be in front of a camera, newscasters, actors, people who could get up and command 400 or 500 people, but now we’re all able to command the 1000s of people. So I was like, “Well, let’s see if there’s some movement here. If we can help people communicate better.”

Since a lot of us are on camera, even from Zoom, COVID most recently. We all went on to our cameras. We all had these experiences of being framed and having to showcase ourselves in a different way. I thought, yeah, this is it. There’s some information here that people can use. I’d really like to share it with people, especially the public and also for performers. So I see the public now as performers, and that was the link for the book for me; it wasn’t just for people who get on stage. We’re all on stage now. There are none of us that are hidden anymore. We’re all being captured somehow or another, even if it’s an interaction with someone at the grocery store, we could be filmed. The communication that we give needs to be precise and clean. And it can be.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: I love that so much. The reality is that everyone’s a producer now. We all have cameras, we have phones, right? That’s a beautiful thing, especially if you are a performer that can command a room, can command a center, command an audience. Also what does that say about the audience that are now engaging, right? Because we have live, we have all these things that are, again, so tapped into our palms, right? What happens then when people start to engage and push back or start to read? Like, I feel like this happens quite a bit with people that are unfamiliar with essentially performing, but they may not know they’re performing, right? By just having subtle gestures with their face, or eyebrows, or something like that and it triggers an emotion.

I think that’s so deep. Can you explain maybe a little bit about the history and significance of one or two gesture types that – I don’t want to go into all of them, of course, because I want the audience to go out there and get your book, but I want to talk a little bit about maybe one or two, perhaps three types of gestures that you discuss in your book that you feel like, they’re at the core of our human connection, human communication. What would you say maybe top one, two, or three, that you lean into the most?

The Core Gestures

Colum P. Morgan: Yeah. I would say the most common that we often see clearly are called beats. We see beats when we look at conversations on television, usually the most common of the gestures when we’re speaking. Now, I must say that most of the gestures and the frequency of gestures that we see 90% of our gestures are made while we are speaking. We very rarely make gestures when we’re listening, just to put that out there that a lot of what I’m talking about in the book is happening while you speak. Beats are hitting specific words. They are feeding, they are giving, they are offering, and you can hear me beat them here just in my voice. You can see that just in my voice, I can beat them in my hands. There’s an up, down, up, down. That’s what we talk about beats are noticed most likely, because they are biphasic. When I say biphasic, I mean, they don’t change shape. They go up and down.

The other gestures have three parts to them. This is where my training in biomechanics overseas with Bogdanov. He was teaching Meyerholds biomechanics, which is a theatrical element, but they analyze movement in that Russian modality. They get really specific about beginnings and ends. Here, science is talking about these structures of the gestures themselves. Beats are biphasic. The other gestures have three phases to them. The ones I think, that we often see are probably the easiest. They don’t require as much energy or rather change. You make a hand shape, and you beat it up and down or in and out, or you punctuate the words because what you’re trying to do is you’re trying to key the words that are the most important that you want the person to understand. So your body is working underneath that to make that information clear for us.

Super fun, really nice, and it’s really nice to see, because once you take control of your beats specifically, you start to notice the frequency with which they happen. That’s really fun. I like to start by just not making any beats at all and just seeing where my body wants to make the movement, and it doesn’t always happen in the arms or in the hands. We often see hands and arms, but it can happen in the body as well, too. I talk about that a little later. We take the concept of this gesture type, and we open it into the performance realm. In the book you’ll see that I go from explaining what it is, then I push it into improvement, and we talk about how it creates character as well, because beats are patterns, repetition, and keying specific things. That’s the first one.

I won’t spend too much time on these, because I want everyone to read the book, as you said. I like Deictic, as well, too. I opened the book with Deictics. Deictic is a Greek word meaning to point or to show. Naturally, they’re pointing gestures. They are things that you would point, specifically with your hands. In performance, we point with our eyes. There is a ton of showing where importance is. Deictics, to me, are where the attention goes, but we’re not always on one attention. We’re not always stuck in one place, so the eyes are where we look when we see people. I’m not looking at your throat. I’m oscillating between your eyes and your mouth. I mentioned the studies that prove that, because of that the eyes are very important.

So, I talked about Deictics as being the importance of where you look, not just pointing with your hands, but pointing with your attention in a way. That can be very important for people in performance, because at the end of the book in chapter eight, I give some exercises that are fun to do while you’re on Zoom, where you can look off in different directions, and you can set anchors. If you respond and give to those anchors off-screen, people on the other side of the screen see a person, they see a placement, they see some – they can’t see who it is, but because you are looking at it, seeing these deictic gestures over in that direction splitting your focus. It creates – it opens the space behind us as well, as for performers or for people who are on stage.

When talking in front of a group of people, where you look is super important. We often have subconscious gestures that we can do. We can drop the eyes very quickly with the deictic gestures. We look in different directions. I talk about how deictics and pointing are the first gesture that babies often have since their muscle control is not controlled yet; it’s not developed. Babies use their eyes to explore the world. So that’s where I wanted to start the conversation where we all start with the first gestures that we start making to communicate with our caregivers and our people around us with our eyes. That’s two.

Three, let’s talk about emblems, because emblems are probably aside from beats which we see people often do. Emblems are the most recognizable, I believe, because they are specific to our culture. Emblems are unique because they are the most codified of all the gestures. Codification means that you have to make it this way. If you do not make it this way, if you make a variation of the gesture, then we do not understand the gesture. The gesture has to be met socially. It has to be made in the same way. The middle finger is an example, thumbs up and the peace sign, the prayer hands. I mean all of these little gestures that we understand as a society, but if you took them somewhere else in a different part of the world, they would not resonate. People would not know what these are. So I give a few examples in the book.

I went to the University of Texas for my master’s degree. The Hook ‘em Horns was always really fun. I was in Italy one time, and I had seen someone with a burnt orange Longhorn shirt, and I sent them the Hook ‘em Horns thing. Oh, man. I got a lot of attention on that because I didn’t realize that doing that symbol in Italy is the cornuto. I was basically saying to that man in public that his wife is sleeping with someone now. It’s like this insult, and I was like, “Oh, my God.” I was like, well, that was my first exploration into the emblem. That’s the fun thing about it is that we see these now a lot on social media. We send emblems are often hand gestures that we can pick in our text messages.

I talk a little about the emblems that are simple. So we start on the top, and then we go a little deeper into them when we talk in the performance realm about how emblems are used because they stand in for words. You don’t need to really speak to say a gesture. It’s one of the few gestures that doesn’t require speech, because it stands in for the words or the phrase and you give – you hold up your two fingers for a peace sign and the word is in the gesture. It’s very close in that way to sign language, in fact.

Then there’s iconic and metaphor. Then there’s an effect as well, too. The way the book is structured, which is very interesting for me, and I don’t know if people will see this, but when we start with deictics, we start with puppetry. Then we go from that into mime, then from mime into melodrama, melodrama into realism, and realism into improvisation, which is basically the evolution of our theatre art form in Western Europe. We started off with these mimes and pantomimes. Then from there, we went into the 1800s into this melodrama with Delsart. Following Delsart, about 100 years ago, actually, I think right now, and this 1923 Stanislavski came to New York and showed us his realism from Russia. So we adopted that. We’ve been doing that for the past 100 years.

Then improv became really big. Saturday Night Live and Second City and the Groundlings, of course. So the evolution of the way I speak about the gestures also fits a historical unfolding of how our art form has been evolving as well. Like how we are connecting with the audience using different modalities.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah. This new era, right, that that is presented through now our phones, right? In zoom and things like that, I feel like it’s taking that improv. It’s blurring that line between improv and the real world. I feel like, in a way, how we show up on our Instagram feed or on whatever, right? Like all of these things are actually the essential components of being human, right? And how you express yourself and obviously for performers and people who are in front of others like on a professional level, that’s different, right? Studying and learning all those things.

Today, I feel like wanting things to be raw, natural as they are because we’re just able to pick up our phone, record what’s happening around us with this innate urge to want things to be more natural, to be like, be yourself. This whole ideology of like, you are as unique as they come if you are holistically yourself. So there is no that this line between, I guess for I would say, the average human being who is not necessarily a “believes that they are a performer.” However, what you’re saying here is this idea of like evolution through, whether it’s through theatre or film, all these kinds of things, this ability to make things natural is what we’ve gravitated more and more towards. I remember watching – Do you remember watching The Blair Witch Project?

Colum P. Morgan: A long time ago. Yeah.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Right, a real long time, but like, it was so – it was so viscerally different from all the other horror movies or whatever, right? There was nothing – I don’t know that I remember anything like being super scary, but the fact that it was a homemade and it looked like a VHS tape. It was raw. It was about as raw as it gets. It gave you that realistic effect even further, which I think just changed things around especially again, now, back to our phones and those kinds of things. But anyways, I love this, because this conversation for me, personally, as I do speaking, as I go out in the world and I tell my story coming from a refugee camp and growing up in America and all those kinds of things. My goal is to inspire.

Everyone you know, like, “Oh, keep motivate and inspire.” Like, what do you – I say my goal is to just stand in front of people who don’t think that they can become whatever it is that they want to become. I hope to be an example, especially high school, young college students of color because for me, it’s like you got to see the performance in order to be a performer, right? And whatever that means for you, relationship, work, all those kinds of things. The reason I really gravitated towards your book and why I’m going to finish it this weekend, is because it’s allowing me to take these components, especially like I said, earlier, I’m Middle Eastern. We literally speak with our eyes, our eyebrows, and our hand gestures, and I used to think that was a bad thing. Until I realized like the most viewed TEDx or one of the most viewed TEDx talks out there, actually, that person used a lot of hand gestures, which then I was like, “Oh, this is interesting.”

Again, coming back to your book, I find it very interesting that your work really revolves around this idea that the body is the instrument. I know as you’re a trained professional in that, can you teach us a little bit, why you believe the body can be used as an instrument in communication? When I say performance, performance doesn’t have to be just in front of an audience on stage. I think I perform around again, my friends, my relationships, my family, right? Can you tell us a little bit how we can utilize our body in thinking in that way?

Communicating With Your Body

Colum P. Morgan: Yeah. Good question. Good question. The body is the instrument through which we are communicating. We are speaking out of our heads. Then we’ve got underneath our head, we have this massive form of muscle and bone. It’s a part of what we say, because performers focus a lot on developing these skills so that when we get up in front of people, we can eliminate tension, we can get rid of unwanted or unneeded things and develop just what we need for the public as a way that what I want to say for us with these gestures is you’re right, the body is we’ve had it our whole time. You’re watching people gesture on TED. You’re seeing people gesture all over the place. This is not new. The information that I’m sharing here is, that you’ve been using these gestures your whole life, technically. I mean, there’s really, all I’ve done is just said, there are six types.

The goal for that is — I believe in and my way that if you know what these six types are, it’s not that I read them on you. It’s not about me reading what these gesture types are necessarily. It’s about you knowing how the gestures are working underneath you. What your hands are doing. Is it an iconic? Is it a metaphor? Are you beating all the time? How often are you beating? Just knowing these things can help you become aware. I noticed too, for individuals, specifically and clients that I have, they become very present. They come out of their head and in their body, because it’s the body that is in the moment. Knowing how the gestures are communicating your idea.

What science is showing us, and we talk about this in the book, is that the hands are almost like a feedback loop. There’s like a, I don’t want to say a figure eight, but the gestures are helping the thought process, the thought processes is coming out in the gestures and creating the spatial dynamic that words are lacking, because we’re all using the same relationship between our thought process and the gesture and the gestures are working to communicate what the words may be lacking weight, speed and you’re showing certain things. Knowing how your hands are doing that and just by dividing it into six types, gives us a lot of – we can be more creative this way.

I think having a multitude of gestures and just, because there are a ton of things happening underneath while we’re speaking. Our hands are doing all sorts of things. You mentioned eyebrows and head. We talk about all of this in the book, as well, too. It’s all about knowing how your message is shaped. So when we talk to people, since there is so much movement around us, there’s something that draws our attention when the movement in the way that we use our bodies has a conscious joy in it. There’s an ability to be present and to be in control as we are supposed to be letting the environment control us and push and pull us through certain things.

Knowing the gesture types allows us to be in the body and to communicate with purpose. That gives us a lot of joy, because we find, at least I find, that it helps me understand the communication that I’m giving. It lets me focus on the other person. It says, here I am. I’m making my message very clear. My gestures are working for you. It’s a connection for us. It’s not just about me. I’m using gestures so that you and I can connect in a visual connection. In the fourth wall, I use the fourth wall as a theatrical term, because it’s the wall on stage that’s gone that the audience is at, but it’s the camera and the fourth wall is also the other person sitting across the cafe table from you. It’s you, you are my fourth wall. You are to where I send my message. The message is towards the fourth wall.

Our bodies are sending – they’re sitting underneath this. They have all this information. All this potential, and that’s what I want the book to do is allow this potential to be increased, to allow people access and knowledge. They’re saying, “Oh, I’ve been using this since I was born.” My body is – I mean gesturing and all this other stuff, but here we are now we can actually say, “Oh, yeah, that was a metaphor. I am using a lot of metaphors today.” “Oh, that’s iconic. That’s strong. I can make that. Maybe I get I’ll figure that one out next time when I tell that story again. I’ll make the iconic gesture even bigger.” It’s fun because you’ll see the audience gets engaged. You bring them joy, as well, too, because everyone’s making these gestures. Very few of us are actually conscious and present with them.

That’s my goal for everyone is to just share a little knowledge of what the performers on my side are thinking of. Again, since we’re all performers, it can be a great individuation process for everyone to just look at themselves and observe how you look to the world through the actions, your hands, and gestures, you’re communicating with your speech.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Man, I love that so much. You’re speaking to my soul, but –

Colum P. Morgan: Oh, good. I love it. I love it.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Because here’s the thing, man. Like I have always been drawn by not just great speakers and things like that, but story. Story is really, it’s a very physical thing. I know I’ll be honest with you, man. When I’m on a little platform or stage where I’m performing in front of people and I’m sharing my story. There’s parts of my story where I get emotional. There’s times where my influx in my voice like it changes. I record myself all the time and going back and watching myself to see where I can spike the emotion, bring it down, “Oh, I went too long there.” All those kinds of things, all those components and I realized when I’m just at the most raw with myself and there was literally times where I would tear up speaking about my dad or something like that. Man, you can just feel the room just like basically absorb the energy, because I feel you’re not just communicating a message or an idea.

I feel like for me, man. Learning the power of the pause, ha – oh, my God, that was a game changer. As far as again, you are communicating a message. However, that message is intertwined with emotion. I mean, again, I know you talk about this as well, which is so powerful, but the intertwining, that mixing of emotion and messagerie is like it has to come through your body, holistically. The power of that pause, where you really bring that person into your world and let them sit there for just that millisecond, right, or the two seconds, or the moments where you can just let them feel it and then deliver the other side of that. Then deliver the transformation or whatever it may be.

I found personally, again, this is why you’re speaking to my soul is, I’m telling you, man. This book is so powerful, because here’s the thing, whatever we’re trying to do, business owners, entrepreneurs, whatever it is, your sales, or you’re an artist, you’re – whatever. You are essentially trying to convey a message in some way, shape or form.  To utilize the cues the human body, your expression, and your energy to create this soup, if you will, of all of these things to deliver, it makes it that much more memorable and powerful. Communication just skyrockets.

I love that so much, because I feel like that’s what makes obviously it’s what makes really powerful performances and why we love actors so much, right? All these things, because they convey these beautiful emotions in such a sharp way and I love that this is your world. This is who you get to help and explore it, but now you also bring it out of that world and help the rest of us out, which I’m super grateful for.

Colum P. Morgan: Yeah.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: These – techniques that anyone can use, so it really powerful.

Colum P. Morgan: Thank you.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, man. I’ll say this, dude. Like when I tell my wife, I love you. She knows like, I push it because again, she works with actors all day. I’m always like, “Babe, I love.” You know like I go – she knows I’m just messing with her, but it feels so good to just say it like that, because it’s so, it’s such a feeling I really want to get across.

Colum P. Morgan: Try this. If you’re saying try this, next time just as a small experiment.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yes.

Colum P. Morgan: Next time, why don’t you try this with your wife, when you tell her I love you. Make a gesture towards her first. Then tell her you love her. See if the gesture doesn’t leave that space and create that kind of that pause in a way. Now, it doesn’t create a pause, but it does start the communication process before the word starts. We talked about this in the book, as well, too. Where the gestures happen while you’re speaking can have a huge impact on your message. So if you’re saying I love you, I love you and might be making a gesture on the love or you or whatnot. Push the gesture to the very beginning and see if that doesn’t open the space afterward and create what I call the “grand pause”, the grand the pause. It’s the beautiful pause, Maria Campbell talks about this.

Anyway, so she talks about the power of that and that does pulls people in, because, again, we’re so pushed at, everything’s pushed at us that when you open up the space you pull people in. I think I just be curious to see if that works for you. If you make a gesture to her and then say, I love you, if that doesn’t make the message more personal, because it has that pause in it before you speak, but the communication has already started. Does that make sense?

Hussein Al-Baiaty: 100%, man. You just helped me get my wife to love me more. This is great. Yeah.

Colum P. Morgan: With that and some flowers and maybe just a dinner.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Oh, man. I am absolutely, loving this. I feel like so many people are going to get so much out of this book, but for you, what’s the thing that you feel like putting this book together, finalizing it, getting it out into the world. What was your favorite part of pulling all this wisdom together?

Colum P. Morgan: Oh, wow. Oh, gosh. Yeah. All of it. It’s been such an enjoyable experience. The process started – we went through the whole, it was each phase of the process had its own rhythm and had its own entity and was each one of it was enjoyable. They were all separate. I think I really liked the first, probably think I think I the first edit the most when the whole thing appeared in front of me. It was all there. It was the first edit. I just thought this is incredible. This is it. There was, we went on to the second edit, which was easy, but seeing it that first time was so lovely.

The team that helped bring this to fruition is just, they were so excellent. I mean, they were Sherpas for me on this incredible mountain. The hike that we’re taking right now, I feel like I’m almost at the top of that or the end of it. I don’t know what the metaphor is here, but whatever it is, we’re almost at the end of this journey. Even this part has been really enjoyable, just seeing how all of it unfolds. This is my first book. I’m learning how all of this works.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah. I also have a feeling this won’t be your last book personally, because I feel like –

Colum P. Morgan: Do you have ideas? That’s funny. Yeah. I do.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Let’s go. Bring it all out. I love that so much. What is your hope? I mean like, there are there are for sure going to be many people who will pick this up, and they’ll get through it, they’ll digest it. What is what is the thing that you hope for after they finish, they put it down, what is the feeling you hope that your book provoked?

Colum P. Morgan: Yeah. This is going to be a strange answer to answer, but I want people to forget it and just walk out with this knowledge in their body. It’s not something to distract you from your everyday life. It’s not supposed to distract you from what you do. It’s just something that you read, you absorb it, you let it go, go through the exercises at the end and learn a little more. The exercises are there to complement a lot of what was written about in the chapters. Then just let it go and just see how this resonates. If you want to make a second and third pass, I’m all about this on books. I pick up what I need the first time and then come back the second, third time, pick up different things. That’s my hope. The hope is to make people better communicators to see each other more and to know how we are seen.

The book is supposed to just give us a door. It’s supposed to just open the door and when you walk through it, I don’t want you to hang around the door. I want you to continue to walk into that room and just let that door take you to a new place. That’s what I want. I want this to be a portal to a better you. I don’t want you to carry it necessarily. I want you to have the book. I want you to like it. I want you to use the information as much as you can, but my goal is free for the reader. My goal is for them. It’s for us as a community, as well. We can hear each other better when we communicate better.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: True. Colum, thank you so much for sharing your stories and your experiences. Man, I am serious, I’m so grateful our paths crossed today, and I got to speak with you. You obviously have a very profound way of really sending your message across to others. I know I’ve been impacted by just hanging out with you for 30 minutes and throughout your book. Thank you for that. The book is called, Your Visual Connection: 6 Gesture Types for Holding the 4th Wall. Besides checking out the book, where can people find you, brother?

Colum P. Morgan: Yeah. I have my website. I’m not on social media. I don’t do any of that stuff. I just have colum.info, C-O-L-U-M-DOT-I-N-F-O, that’s me. Everything you want to know about me is right there.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Beautiful. Colum, thank you so much for coming on the show today, brother.

Colum P. Morgan: Thank you, Hussein. This has been so wonderful.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, absolutely. Wishing you the best on the launch of your book and much more successful.

Colum P. Morgan: Happy New Year to you. I think I can still say that, we’re still in January. So Happy New Year to you. Thank you so much for everything. I really appreciate it.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Absolutely. It’s my honor, brother. Thank you.