Talkback: The way you move

Note: This is the first in an ongoing series of reviews of live talks called Talkbacks that we’ll be posting on Some reviews will be full critiques while others will share inspirations from the viewing experience.

Jim and Nancy Petro have risen to the top of the many lists in their lives. Jim was once Ohio’s Attorney General and Nancy has been a leader in various business endeavors. But today, their talk was about their work on those who have been wrongfully convicted.

Since they were interviewed by a Columbus Dispatch reporter, their talk was classified more as a conversation than a speech, lecture or keynote. I was struck however, by a comment they made regarding how evidence is collected from eyewitnesses during an investigation.



I’ll paraphrase here:

“When collecting eyewitness data, the investigator should not have any knowledge of the case or what the ‘truth’ might be.  If they do, their non-verbal and body movements (such as nodding, facial expressions, open or closed stance, nervousness) can directly impact that response that an eyewitness gives.”

In other words, a person’s life or death can be hung on the non-verbal reinforcements of a police officer or other investigator who knows the answers when questioning the eyewitness. If they are unaware of the situation, then their non-verbals will have little to no impact on the answers.  And as such, may not sway an eyewitness one way or another.

The takeaway:  we have little idea the big impact our nonverbals have on our everyday communication – let alone our critical communication.

I’ve discussed this before, especially in the case of Jamie Oliver’s TED talk(and his 100 steps in the first 3 minutes) that show his nervous energy.  And I certainly focus heavily in our coaching on the impact that hand gestures, stance, pacing and head movements have in helping to communicate – or present a barrier to communicating – a message. That is not new.

So could an innocuous nod, an unsuspecting squint, a pursing of the lips, a shift of the eye, a petting of the chin, a tussling of the hair really seal someone’s fate in a process of being convicted?  Perhaps for a crime they didn’t commit?

Jim and Nancy Petro think so.  You’ll see it in their eyes when they tell you about it.