Not too many people are surprised by the ten candidates whom Fox News picked for Thursday night's first Republican 2016 Presidential debate: Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and John Kasich.
One crucial thing many a high level politician and their advisers don't understand - is that not only does one's own body language indicate with great nuance what a person is thinking and feeling - but also that adopting and intelligently improvising their nonverbals - will alter a person's emotions. Moreover, when it comes to a political debate, the fluidity and ease of speech is profoundly influenced by the configurations and dynamics of the body and the face.
Said another way - flat out, your body language will make or break your success in a debate.
Here are several key (but certainly not all) body language debate pointers for this first crucial debate:
1. When an audience member or moderator speaks to you, turn and point your whole body towards them. This should always include your eyes, face, torso and feet - pointing directly at them. Such whole-body pointing conveys respect and full attention. Those watching will feel empathy and thus vicariously appreciated.
(In routine, daily one-on-one conversations however, after an initial orientation towards the other person (5-10 seconds), you should turn (rotate) your body 20 to 30 degrees to one side and even put more weight on one leg. This engenders rapport and if you would stay in direct body pointing in these contexts it will rapidly acquire a confrontational feel.
Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 2016: Hillary Clinton, Roosevelt Island, Building Rapport and Body Language
2. Do not look down when another person is speaking. Such eye gaze, depending on the other nonverbal signals present, will often appear as if you feel you're being reprimanded - or it will convey a disproportional amount of disrespect. An exception to this principle is during note taking. Jotting down a few ideas, points to be made, etc. will project a higher attention level and thinking to the audience. On occasion, one may even practice this maneuver in a feigned manner as a way to down-regulate one's own anxiety and improve audience perception.
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3. Foot Position - Stand with your feet about two inches less than shoulder's width apart (and a bit closer for women). This will increase a speaker's confidence level and project assertiveness, strength and alpha emotional tones. Many candidates stand with their feet essentially touching. This projects and engenders lower confidence and subordinate feelings - and it certainly does not look presidential. Simply standing with feet close together negatively affects a person's ability to think fluidly - and will even increase the rate of stuttering.
Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 2440: Vladimir Putin Dials Up His Alpha ... Foot Position, Projecting Leadership, Confidence & Body Language
4. Your feet must be flat on the floor. In the first of the three debates in 2012, President Obama repeatedly stood with one leg crossed in back of the other - so that his toe was pointed down touching the floor. In this context, this foot position does not appear relaxed in anyway and indeed it may very well have been that he was physically tired. Regardless of the reason - standing in such a manner sends signals of aloofness, sloppy nonchalance and less than full engagement.
Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 2137: Mitt Romney vs. Barack Obama - First Presidential Debate - Barack's Bad Body Language
5. Hand and arm gestures: In body language nomenclature, most non-self-touching nonverbals are termed "illustrators" - and should be used in proper context and proportion to the simultaneous verbal messages. Too often some politicians, in an effort to appear what they perceive to be a "leader" - will resort to hyper-alpha body language practices. These will project arrogance and patronizing emotional signals - and for which the speaker is mostly or entirely oblivious. Behaving in such a manner will solidify their fans, alienate further those who don't care for them - and most importantly, will also destroy rapport with those who are considering them.
Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 3257: Donald Trump at the Texas-Mexico Border - Body Language of a Hyper-Alpha
Almost as bad, and in some cases worse - using no arm/hand movements at all will send messages of low confidence and low trustworthiness.
6. Never touch your head - particularly your face or neck. These facial MAPs (Manipulators, Adaptors or Pacifiers) are (subconsciously) interpreted by nearly all who watch (even those 99.99% who've never had any body language training) as anxiety signals - or even associated with lying. The audience will have a feeling of unease. Intriguingly, the perception of deception increases proportionately with the frequency of facial touching.
Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 3101: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jada Pickett Smith and "Focus"
7. Facial expressions of both contempt and disgust should be avoided. As with other nonverbals, these will solidify some of your base - but you'll alienate the undecided voters.
Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 3250: Donald Trump regarding John McCain: "He's no hero" - Body Language Tells us what he really thinks
8. Avoid using the conventional steeple - at all. Again, it will win you very few new voters - only reinforce your current followers. Most every politician who uses the conventional steeple - over-uses it, thus introducing arrogance and condescending feelings. It's the intellectual equivalent of a pick-up truck with a huge lift kit - way too much alpha.
Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 2982: Politicians Should Never Do This If They Want To Be Elected - Hillary Clinton's Body Language Faux Pas
9. Do not, under any conditions, put your hands in your pockets. In this context, and depending on the other signals present - at best it will send signals of emotional dissonance and non-engagement - and at worst it projects being intimidated and even fear.
Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 3104: 2016 Presidential Candidate Hopeful Gov. Scott Walker - and a Body Language Signal which a Leader should NEVER adopt
10. Do not smile over-frequently or out of context. This will be interpreted for what it is - a manifestation of insincerity. When you do smile, it must be sincere. Remember to initiate smiling with your eyes. Forget about your mouth - it will follow in kind.
Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 3133: The Red Flag of Robert Durst's Body Language
11. Most every politician over-uses their forehead. Don't do this. Over-use of the forehead muscles, particularly when involving only central forehead - is a primary indicator of insincerity. Of particular note - when an elevated central forehead contraction (CFC) is seen in conjunction with even a slight smile - and is displayed chronically (of course we all make this expression occasionally), it's a strong signal of antisocial personality disorder (e.g., sociopath & psychopath). When used briefly a CFC with a mouth smile transmits feelings of smug-disbelief, arrogance or contempt.
Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 3214: Chris Pratt, Jurassic World, Bad Acting and a Body Language Red Flag
12. The typical alpha personality believes they can get by on almost no sleep. Like a college student preparing for an exam, don't try and cram with your debate preparation. Get plenty of sleep.