The presidential debates take over mainstream media coverage every year with all the major talking heads on speed dial for extensive post-coverage on body language, speech patterns and even the size of lapel pins.
So much is said about what is not actually spoken, it really emphasizes the power of body language.
President Nixon’s White House tapes recently revealed his disappointment in his performance at the first-ever televised debate with then Senator John F. Kennedy. According to the TIME Magazine article “How the Nixon-Kennedy Debate Changed the World, ” Kayla Webley notes “…those who listened to the debate on the radio thought Nixon had won. But those listeners were in the minority… Those that watched the debate on TV thought Kennedy was the clear winner. Many say Kennedy won the election that night.”
That’s because Nixon’s sweaty and stiff demeanor came across negatively to the American public viewers, while Kennedy’s smooth style elicited a Presidential confidence.
The TIME magazine article goes on to quote Larry Sabato, political analyst at the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia: ‘”Before the television debates most Americans didn’t even see the candidates — they read about them, they saw photos of them,” he told TIME. “This allowed the public to judge candidates on a completely different basis.” It’s a reality that continues to influence campaigns today. “When parties are considering their candidates they ask: Who would look better on TV? Who comes across better? Who can debate better?” Sabato says. “This has been taken into the calculus.”’
While it is likely Governor Romney and President Obama have the top body language experts prepping them before every match, even these well-trained public figures have their moments. Perhaps reaction to body language quirks is best captured in social media – we all need to enjoy a little chuckle as we lead up to casting our vote for Commander in Chief! Check out Buzzfeed’s “23 Best Twitter Reactions To The Final Presidential Debate” for some great commentary!
When we issue media training to any of our clients, we always include a body language and speech pattern analysis. To build trust in your audience, it’s important that your style comes across as confident, yet caring – humble, yet strong.
For some great tips on body language, check out PRNews’“Body Language is Right Out of the PR Handbook” which analyses Vice President Joe Biden’s body language performance in the vice presidential debate.