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September 29, 2012
BERKELEY, CA, Sep 29, 2012/ Troy Media/ – If you’re already inclined towards either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney as your preferred candidate for the next President of the United States, the debates won’t have much influence on you – except to confirm your choice.
But if you are still undecided, research shows that, after party affiliation, the most important predictor of how people vote is their emotional reaction – or gut feeling – toward the candidate. That’s why body language plays a key role in political debates. Because most of the emotional component of a message is not in what is being said, but rather in how it is said and how the politician looks when he says it.
Superficial? Maybe. But this potent, and often unconscious, evaluation process is also hardwired in the human brain.
And today’s political figures are fully aware of, and heavily coached on, the impact of body language. They know that, when it comes to nonverbal cues, everything matters: gender, age, skin color, hair style, attractiveness, height, clothing, facial expressions, hand gestures, posture, energy level – audiences judge it all.
Unlike their well-rehearsed stump speeches, political debates are less scripted and the candidates are more vulnerable – which makes their body cues more available. I evaluate each debater, using a list of 25 positive and 25 negative signals. I’ve listed some of them below. As you watch the debates, look for nonverbal behaviours in the following categories, and then tell me who you think ‘won.’
‘¢ Power and status signals: The use of space, solid stance, height, deep and resonate voice, erect posture, steady eye contact, flowing gestures between the waist and shoulders.
‘¢ Warmth and likeability signals: Genuine smiles, open palm gestures, positive eye contact, nods, forward leans, relaxed stance, warm and constant vocal tones with a delivery that coveys passion and caring.
‘¢ Negative signals: Frowns, grimaces, contemptuous or dismissive expressions, high-pitched voice, forced smiles, lethargy, swaying, narrowed lips, wooden or jerky gestures, gestures that go above the shoulders and look out of control, long pauses, stammering, fillers ‘ahs’ and ‘ums.’
‘¢ Incongruence: Pay special attention to body language that is out of sync with the spoken word. For example, if a candidate says ‘I’m absolutely certain this is the best course of action for us,’ but his body language makes him appear tentative or arrogant, notice how those nonverbal signals undermine the verbal message.
‘¢ Blink rates: I use a counter to keep track of eye blinks. Blink rates are almost impossible to control – and blinks increase under stress, so it is especially interesting to notice what’s being discussed when the increase occurs. And, by the way, in the last eight presidential elections (with the exception of 2000 in which George W. Bush won the electoral college but lost the popular vote), the candidate with the lowest blink rate in the debates became the next president.
Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. is an executive coach, change-management consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. To contact Carol about speaking or coaching, call 510-526-172 or email CGoman@CKG.com. To more information or to view videos, visit Carol’s website: http://www.SilentLanguageOfLeaders.com.
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