Farage v Clegg – the importance of non-verbal communication

The polls show that Farage comprehensively won this week’s debate with Clegg; the ICM exit poll for the Guardian shows Farage winning by 69%. How is it possible to quantify who won on the night though? What follows is an analysis of communication skills, NVC and body language used by both and the reason Farage won.

There is an old adage used by the sales industry ‘people buy people’, in other words, regardless of what you are peddling you will only be successful if the punter ‘buys’ you.

The debate on the federalization of Europe by Farage v Clegg this week became only the sub text to the real issue debated, who did we like the best?

The clothes they wore

Nigel-Farage-and-Nick-Clegg-live-debate-3342045Farage wore a pin stripe suit, which was not overly flattering and a blue striped tie which didn’t look particularly flash, in fact he looked like middle management at an office supply company. Clegg was dressed in a much nicer dark blue suit with an expensive looking gold tie. Clegg was the best dressed by a long way and looked like a successful banker (spell check please).

Unfortunately for Clegg, Farage took the stance of a straight talking ‘man of the people’ and he painted Clegg as a ‘career politician’ who was in it politics to look after the financial interests of his rich mates. The way they were both dressed backed up the stance of Farage and the flash gold tie around Clegg’s neck may as well have been a noose.

Opening statements

Both speakers had 60 seconds to make an opening statement. The thrust of Farage’s statement was ‘people don’t want to be in the EU and we never voted for it’. Clegg’s argument stated that ‘many global issues like climate change, terrorism or catching international criminals, cannot be dealt with by countries in isolation. We need global cooperation’.

This was the only point in the night when Clegg was ahead. In retrospect, he should have collapsed to the floor feigning a heart attack after his opening statement (Ambulance for Clegg!), as he would have still had some credibility in the exit polls at this point.

Body language

Clegg needs some real help here; his body language is just dreadful! farage-clegg_2692190bHis stock hand gesture is Clegg, clenching his right fist with his thumb pressed over the top of his finger, which he then thumps up and down constantly (not unlike Clinton’s in his infamous ‘I did not have shexual relations with that woman’ lie).

Made with this frequency, it becomes purely pedantic. It is a bludgeoning ‘agree with me!’ gesture, which does not convey any personal conviction from him at all.

His other two default gestures were a flat open hand (like a karate chop), which he used, again, in a chopping motion not unlike his clenched fist. He also used the two hand, open palmed ‘stop’ gesture frequently.

None of these gestures are enduring or particularly persuasive, especially when used in conjunction with an ‘air of imploring urgency’ as favored by Clegg.

Clegg’s ‘body language package’ has clearly had professional help over the years but that has turned him into a body language robot, devoid of any real human emotion.  Every single gesture seemed controlled and had been worked on for effect, which made it look like even he didn’t really believe in what he was saying.

Farage’s body language isn’t naturally good either; it is quick, jerky and staccato. It should make him seem very untrustworthy (and he is to me) but he does come across as a human being and he uses it to very good effect.

His gestures were more expansive and varied, he used large sweeping gestures when it was needed and then changed to more controlled ones to match his content. He directed all his gestures openly and toward his target recipient, whether it was of the audience in the studio or Clegg.

This portrayed a confidence and honesty, which was sadly lacking from Clegg. Farage addressed Clegg directly 17 times; Clegg only addressed Farage directly three times, which screamed lack of confidence (taking regular sips of water didn’t help you look confident either Nick!)

Farage’s best gift though is to alter his body language to emphasize his point. He consistently punctuated his points by allowing his body language to become more excitable as his voice rose. His body language was sometimes allowed to run riot and became almost frantic as his voice rose to make a point he believed in.

This, right here, is the very holy grail of persuasion.

If you want to convince your audience to buy you and your message, you must be (or appear to be) congruent. This is what Farage did to excellent effect and it is for this very reason the opinion polls unanimously declared Farage to be the winner of something as subjective as a debate.

Non-verbal communication

So much of the message we try to convey is done through body language and non-verbal communication. It is here that Clegg lost the battle.

Clegg’s focus seemed to be constantly fixed on someone in the middle distance and he avoided direct eye contact with Farage or the audience (except for the ridiculous times he made a big deal of getting the audience members name and talking to them directly. Why Nick? This debate is much bigger than Donna from Doncaster).

I counted three different occasions where Clegg’s micro expressions seemed to contradict what he was saying. On the occasions he was saying that ‘this current situation is working well for us blah blah’ he head was slightly shaking from side to side indicating he did not actually believe what he was saying.

The pitch, pace and power used by Farage as he delivered his words was also employed to a much greater effect. He spoke slower and paused much more than Clegg, which indicates he was in control and was more confident than Clegg too.

There were a couple of occasions that Clegg lost composure on the night, which became two big nails in his coffin. One was when Farage held up the flyer of Clegg calling for a referendum on Europe (ergo, you have no personal convictions Clegg) and the “no one believes your lies anymore Nick’ taunt (ergo, you’re a fucking liar Nick).

Clegg did not fight back and instead looked uncomfortable and panicky as he somehow managed to shuffle on the spot.

Body language tells and non-verbal communications shows can never be looked at in isolation. For example, if you touch your nose once, you are not necessarily telling lies, you might just have an itchy nose.

Looking at the total non-verbal communication of both men on the night, Farage looked the most honest, confortable and congruent by a long way.


4e668__73987459_clegg_farage_poll_624Whoever advised Clegg on his strategy for the night needs to be sacked or possibly shot.

The tactics deployed by Clegg were to personally attack Farage as often as he could. Clegg and his team severely underestimated how distrusted the political leaders are in this country.

On the night Clegg made 23 personal attacks against Farage compared to Farage making just five against Clegg (some were just out and out bizarre too, at one point he asked Farage if he ‘denied the moon landings, thought Obama wasn‘t American and thought Elvis was still alive? What the actual fuck? This was pure car crash politics)

Clegg used ridiculous hyperbole again and again in these personal attacks, which Farage simply dismissed with disdainful guffaws.

It was childish, immature but much more damaging than that, it made Clegg look like a career politician, the very thing Farage was accusing him of being!

Clegg’s performance was pantomime politics at it’s very worse, it displayed all the things ‘the man in the street’ hates about politicians, saying nothing whilst talking, avoiding answering questions, immature personal insults, duplicity and slippery semantics.

Clegg’s insistence on personally attacking Farage made it seem like he didn’t have enough pro EU arguments to fill the debate (“yeh Farage? We may be losing autonomy to a federal Europe but you smell of poo!”) Yet his opening statement contained compelling arguments, which he should have expanded on, his advised strategy was 100% wrong.

Meanwhile, Farage answered all of the questions. He didn’t try to dodge them or answer questions that hadn’t been asked. He tried to be different from our Machiavellian politicians and it seemed to have worked for him.

The quoting and denial of the statistics used on the night was frustrating to those that watched. Whenever one quoted a statistic, it was immediately denied and scoffed by the other. Clegg though seemed to be the most detached from reality and logic.

For example, Clegg said half of the 1.5m Euro immigrants have gone back home, he then said he “Wanted to reinstate exit checks for counting people out of the UK when they leave’.

So how could he say half had gone home, if there was nobody counting them? (By his own admission), it is this kind of slip that can destroy all credibility. It is a totally subjective thing to judge who won or lost a debate but every single poll shows that Farage won this one.

Personally, I oppose everything Farage stands for. I would prefer to nail my own bollocks to a tree than vote Tory but I would vote Tory, before I voted UKIP.

However, Farage has done himself some huge good in these debates and Clegg has done himself some huge damage.

How do we judge who won or lost then? Obviously by looking at what was said by them both but that is only a small part of it. How it was said, how the body language and non-verbal shows backed up what they said or not played a huge part. We are all body language experts and we use these skills to judge those who wish to influence us.

Farage looked like he believed in what he was saying, Clegg didn’t. People buy people, people bought Farage.



    1. : ) That’s kind of the point though, based on Cleggs’s strategy, the more unpolished and rubbish Farage looked the more people believed him! Farage is a moron and his eyes bulge out so much it looks like an elephant is sitting on his head, he looks hateful but he won. In my eyes Clegg is to blame

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