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October 4, 2012
BERKELEY, CA, Oct 4, 2012/ Troy Media/ – Political debates are not just about talking points. They are also about ‘vibe’ – our gut (emotional) reaction to the candidates. And how those candidates make us feel, in turn, is all about their body language.
In general, audiences respond most favorably to candidates who appear calm and focused, rather than hyper or disorganized. (Body language that adds to this impression include a steady vocal pitch and tone, gestures that stay below shoulder level, gestures that show palms, and nonverbal signals that are in alignment with the verbal message being delivered.)
Audiences react unfavorably to negative body language that conveys arrogance, insincerity, or uncertainty. (For example, I look for swaying, rapid blinking, fake smiles, jerking motions, contemptuous or dismissive expressions, lip compression, stammering, fillers, and rising vocal pitch.)
Here’s what I saw at the first U.S. Presidential debate:
President Barack Obama didn’t bring his ‘A’ game. He showed a lack of energy (which made him seem detached), looked down too often, and his most-displayed expression when Romney was speaking was a lip compression with a clenched jaw. His speech had numerous fillers (‘ahs’) and a slower delivery – which can come across as focus, but coupled with his low energy, fell short.
The President’s greatest nonverbal strength is his smile – which is most often genuine and warm – but even that faded last night.
Governor Mitt Romney displayed higher energy, more animation, and broader gestures (a few above shoulder level – which he should watch). His use of ’1-2-3′ hand gestures and speaking points was effective and organized. And where Obama shifted most of his weight to one foot, Romney had his weight evenly distributed.
Romney’s body language negatives included shoulder bounces (especially evident during his closing comments), a tendency to sway, and his ‘default expression’ (one that masks whatever other emotions he may be feeling) which is a fake smile that can look like a smirk.
One place where the President had an advantage last night was in projecting empathy. You could hear it in the timber of his voice when he talked about his grandmother and in his closing remarks when he talked about ‘fighting every day’ for the middle class and those who are striving to get into the middle class.
I can’t wait for the second debate!
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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