Can body language rule the planet?

Did President Obama just lose the most powerful job in the world because of the poor body language he displayed during his live debate with Romney? Is body language really that important?

After the first debate between Obama and Romney, it is widely accepted that Romney ‘won’ the debate. As it wasn’t a basketball match where you simply tally the points to see who won, establishing the victor is subjective. Mostly, this is based on the positive impression left on the audience by the content of what they said and their body language or non-verbal communications (NVC).

NVC aside for a second, should the Presidency of the USA, really be decided by how well you perform in a 90 minute live debate? Surely the policies and plans for running the country should be carefully weighed, considered and examined and then a measured decision be made? Unfortunately, we live in an age of X-factor politics, who was the most entertaining on the night? I’ll vote for him!

Maybe the democratic system for casting votes should be done away with and instead the nation picks the winner after a live electoral debate, using the red buttons on their remotes. We could get the candidates to sing, dance and try to squeeze out a tear as they spin out some sad story about their childhood.

How important is NVC?

When we communicate, how much of our message is transmitted by NVC? James Borg (no relation to Bjorn) believes 97% of our message is non-verbal while most others believe it is between 60-70%. Whatever the split actually is, this televised debate proves that your NVC is a hugely important element in how successful you will be as a communicator.

I have spent a lot of time looking at the analysis of the NVC of the two candidates, which has been hugely interesting.

Obama looked like he lacked energy (bored), he has been accused of ‘not being present’ on the night (conceited). He spent a lot of time looking at the floor (lacking confidence) and avoiding direct eye contact (shifty) as well as pensively stroking his jaw (denoting Romney was making him think about his stance). Obama regularly used the cute ‘head tilt’ (please believe me, I’m a nice guy) He was non-aggressive (weak), polite (weak) and weak (weak). His hand gestures were smaller and less demonstrative than Romney’s were (lacking confidence) and his feet pointed to the stage exit a couple of times (I don’t want to be here) and he wore a blue tie (passive).

Romney on the other hand stood upright (self assured) he displayed unbroken eye contact (convinced) he was energetic (I want this) aggressive (I believe in this) and confrontational (cocksure). He constantly interrupted Obama (dominance) His hand gestures were expansive and definite (self confident) he used the ‘palm down’ hand gesture regularly (aggressive) his feet pointed directly at Obama (I’m here for the fight) when Obama spoke Romney had a fixed smirk on his lips (you’re most definitely wrong). His head was always straight up (very confident) He wore a red tie (aggressive).

Why did Obama do so badly, he is, after all a very accomplished and believable public speaker? Why didn’t he bring up Romney’s ‘47%’ video or pounce, the couple of times Romney contradicted himself on his tax policies? The conspiracist in me thinks Obama looked shaken, like he had just got bad news. Did the Romney camp have information on Obama that they used to set the perimeters of what could and couldn’t be brought up? Who knows?

I find it unfathomable that Romney, who has been caught on video saying he cares nothing for 47% of the poorest Americans, has not found his political career consigned to the graveyard. (He also once asked if they could open the windows on a plane, when he was too hot) But no! It seems his strong performance in the debate has eradicated his right wing elitist views and his popularity is soaring.

Did his very strong NVC skills have a hand in this? Depressingly, it looks like it did. Both Obama and Romney have a huge team of experts who school them in NVC skills constantly. There is a joke about communicating that says ‘if you are able to fake sincerity you have got it made’. It seems Romney hired the better team of fakers.

One thing is certain though, if you communicate in your business or in your day-to-day life and you try to persuade others or influence them, you need to pay attention to your NVC skills.

Congruency is the holy grail of communicating, if you really believe in what you are saying then your NVC will match the words that you use and this is the most powerful form of persuasion you could ever employ. No one can doubt the congruency of the best orators in history and they changed the world.

All of us are body language experts, we may not be able to deconstruct body language and explain all it’s nuances but we are left with an impression and that impression becomes our instinct, which we usually follow. As a communicator, believe in what you do, feel passionate about it and it will shine out of you like a beacon.

That is the most powerful form of communicating that exists.


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