Thursday, June 28, 2012

Nonverbal Communication Analysis # 1915: Mitt Romney's Response to Supreme Court's Decision on "Obamacare"

In response to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision upholding most of "Obamacare", Mitt Romney's words and voice sounded more fluid and sincere during his speech today. His body language could use some improvement though. It's difficult to imagine what speech coach is advising him not to use his hands. He should use them. Known in the nonverbal communication world as "Illustrators" - these gestures, properly used, afford us an opportunity to increase our sincerity quotient (something all politicians sorely need), develop rapport and increase the recall of what we say in our audience's memories. Mitt Romney did not use his hands once as illustrators during this important speech - only to turn some pages on his notes.

Care should be taken not to confuse Illustrators with MAPs (Manipulators, Adaptors, Pacifiers).

Although the facial expressions and the upper body may act as illustrators as well, the hands and arms play a primary roll. These hand/arm gestures act to emphasize, underline and illustrate speech/words/tone/cadence, etc. By not using our hands, we make it more difficult for our speech - not just to sound more fluid and sincere, but to literally be more flowing and truthful. Allowing the hands to work with our speech will physiologically affect the brain in a positive way - and thus the words we speak and how they sound.

Obviously one can over-use hand gestures and care must be taken to avoid this. In general hands should not be lifted above the shoulders or more than three or four inches lateral to the shoulders. Hands should never be placed in the pockets. There should also be a "harmony" with the spoken word. Moving the Hands/arms in a haphazard fashion will destroy rapport and detract from the verbal message. It's useful to think a bit like an orchestra conductor - but less dramatic in speed and movement. 

Another reason to use ones hands (and avoid putting them in our pockets) during a speech or lecture - is because we tend not to trust people when we cannot see their hands. From the view on this video, it's not clear if Romney had his hands in his pockets - but he tends to do so. At the very best it sends signals of emotional dissonance - as if to say, "... I kind of want to be here, but part of me doesn't ...."
For this same reason, many politicians have begun to use lecterns made of Plexiglas or ones which have a thin central support beam. These give greater "transparency" of the speaker both literally and metaphorically. Indeed if a person suddenly stops using illustrators, and then begins using them - this sends up a red flag as to the truthfulness of their statements/answers they made/gave during the gesture hiatus.
With regards to his paralanguage, Mr. Romney should avoid the lip smacking that he has of late made a habit. It can be heard throughout this speech.

The former Massachusetts Governor should also make an effort to relax his forehead during his speeches and even during dialog. Overuse (contraction) of the central forehead is extremely common among politicians and many in the public eye. While casual observers may believe it looks as if they're always concerned - overusing the central forehead contraction, especially in conjunction with a smile (even a slight smile) - transmits insincerity (or worse) and should be strongly avoided.