Most people, politicians included, fail to realize that not only does one's body language indicate in great detail what they are both thinking and feeling - but also that by changing their own facial expressions and body postures - they can also, very powerfully and with great nuance, regulate their emotions.
When it comes to a debate, we seldom remember more than a few words a candidate says - but we'll always remember their nonverbal behavior. Indeed, in the context of a debate, a candidate's body language will make or break the performance.
Dear Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump: I've prepared a few pointers for your upcoming Presidential Debates. This list is not exhaustive, but it's a good start.
1. Care should be taken to turn and "whole body point" toward your moderator or an audience member asking a question. Just rotating your head and torso isn't enough. Turn and point your whole body towards them. This should always include your eyes (with quality eye contact), face, torso and feet - pointing directly at them. Such whole-body pointing conveys respect and full attention. Those who are watching will feel empathy and will appreciate this respect vicariously.
Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 2016: Hillary Clinton, Roosevelt Island, Building Rapport and Body Language
2. Looking down when your opponent is speaking should be kept to a minimum. Depending on the other nonverbals present, a downward gaze will project feelings that you're being scolded, feeling guilty or acquiescing. A candidate who does this will be viewed as someone who accepts a beta roll while recognizing the other person as an alpha.
One exception to this axiom is during note taking. Using an occasional moment to jot down ideas will project greater attention and engagement. It will also send sincerity signals and convey intelligence to the audience. Intriguingly, this practice may also be used deliberately in order to down-regulate your own anxiety.
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3. Foot Position - Stand with your feet about a shoulder's width apart (slightly closer for women). Standing in such a manner will not only convey confidence, assertiveness and strength - but it will also up-regulate these emotions internally.
Many candidates stand with their feet too close together - Donald Trump did so when visited Mexico on the stage next to President Peña Nieto. This action engenders and projects and a lower confidence level and other subordinate type feelings - and it in no way appears presidential. Standing with one's feet a shoulder's width apart, or slightly closer, will make you feel more confident and improves the fluidity of both thought and speech. It literally helps you to "think on your feet" better.
Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 3678: Donald Trump's Trip to Mexico - Body Language and Emotional Intelligence
4. Your feet must also be positioned flat on the floor. This also sends signals of strength, assertiveness and confidence.
In 2012, during the very first of his debates with Mitt Romney, Barack Obama frequently stood with one leg crossed in back of the other - such that his toe was pointed down touching the floor. This sends feelings of aloofness and a casual, almost sloppy attitude which is not in context for a presidential debate.
Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 2137: Mitt Romney vs. Barack Obama - First Presidential Debate - Barack's Bad Body Language
5. Hand and arm gestures should be in congruence with, and proportional to your verbal message and vocal tone. Donald Trump uses too many alphas and hyper-alpha hand and arm movements. These will solidify his base, but will tend to drive away the swing voters. It's a perfect example of a very common phenomenon in nonverbal behavior - what is good in small doses, often backfires in larger doses. Those who use alpha body language signals will also tend to over-use them.
It's also a big mistake to use too few hand and arm gestures - for this will send signals of low trustworthiness and low confidence.
Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 3241: Trump - a Hyper-Alpha Donald vs. a Kinder, Gentler Version - Body Language and Likability
6. Under no condition, ever touch your face or neck. If you've never read a single article on nonverbal behavior, most people will intuitively perceive the speaker to be feeling anxiety - or guilty of deception. It makes people instantly feel uneasy.
Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 3553: Donald Trump, Deception, Facial Touching and Empathy
7. Two facial expressions which should be strongly avoided are disgust and contempt. The expression of anger, is also discouraged - but it is a bit more expected and acceptable given the right context. Donald Trump displays both contempt and disgust much more often than he should - and more than any American Presidential candidate since the advent of television. Again, this will also solidify his base, but alienate undecided voters.
Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 3695: Donald Trump, "Take Their Guns away", "Let's see What Happens to Her"
8. Another nonverbal which should be strongly avoided is "The Steeple" (more specifically, the conventional steeple). It shouldn't be used at all. I've never seen a photograph or video of any American president every using a conventional steeple. Not one (Donald, are you listening?). The reason for this behavior pattern is those who use the conventional steeple are also seeking power - as well as arrogant and condescending. That's not to say American Presidents have never been arrogant or that they ceased to seek greater power or influence. The conventional steeple is a rapport destroyer though - and for at least the last 65 years, the presidents knew this intuitively.
It's a given that a person who uses a conventional steeple (longer than a second or two) is either deliberately posing (and been given poor advice to do so) or has an inferiority complex and is over-compensating.
Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 3527: North Carolina's Governor Pat McCrory Statement regarding His Order That "Clarifies" Controversial Gender Identity Bill
9. Never put your hands in your pockets. Of course most of the time this applies to men. It's surprising how often people will make this mistake. Some people will even do so because they believe it makes them look thoughtful and deliberate - and yet at the very best it sends signals of non-engagement, beta behavior and emotional dissonance - and (depending on the other signals present) it can also project that they're feeling intimated, fearful and being deceptive.
Body Language Analysis No. 913: Mitt Romney - Low Confidence, Low Trust and Demure
10. Do not smile over-frequently or out of context. Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are guilty of this mistake. It's often interpreted (and accurately so) - as a signal of insincerity. Any smiles must be sincere. Politicians try to smile much more often than most professionals - but few smile sincerely (a Duchenne smile). Always remember to initiate smiling with your eyes. Forget about your mouth - if you begin with your eyes, your mouth will follow.
Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 3567: Donald Trump's Most Common Social Smile (Pseudo-Smile) Variant
11. Most every politician (and insincere person) over-uses their forehead. Donald Trump's forehead is heavily Botoxed - while Hillary's forehead is minimally so. Over-contracting (and elevating) one's forehead, especially the central forehead (with or without a partial mouth smile) is a strong signal of insincerity (and when chronically over-done, it's a sign of antisocial personality disorder). When used occasionally (as with 96% of the population) - it telegraphs emotions of disbelief, contempt or arrogance (which, as human beings we're all entitled to feel once in a while).
Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 3641: How Marina Joyce is like Donald Trump
12. Get a full night's sleep. You may, in four months time, be leader of the free world and an alpha personality - but you're not from the planet Krypton.
Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 2135: Ronald Reagan in Nashua, New Hampshire "I'm Paying for this Microphone Mr. Green!"
13. Secretary Clinton - don't open your eyes too widely too often. Occasionally as a mode of emphasis is okay and normal. But you do this far too often. It makes you look like you're trying to hard to convince people (and you in fact are).
Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 3487: Scott Pelley to Hillary Clinton, "Have you always told the truth?"
14. One body language configuration that should be used (but not over-used) is holding the sides of the lectern - however towards the front (closest to the audience). This signals both strength and assertiveness. Performing this too much however will backfire.
Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 3605: John Kennedy, Hands on Podium and Body Language
15. Both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump tend to use the political point far too often. For those of you unfamiliar with the "Political Point" - this is when the fingers are configured in an "Okay" sign which is used in lieu of and to "soften up" what otherwise would almost certainly be index finger pointing. While an index finger point should almost never be used, the political point when over-used comes off quite insincerely (and is used almost exclusively by politicians).
Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 3635: Michelle Obama's DNC Speech and a Body Language Mistake
16. Once the initial handshake occurs, don't encroach onto your opponent's personal space until the debate is finished. Donald Trump is the most likely to commit an error here (à la Rick Lazio and Al Gore). If Trump does this even once, Clinton will win the debate. Some of Secretary Clinton's advisors may be even be trying to figure out ways of her provoking Trump - and thus causing him to walk in her direction. Checkmate.
The only exception for this would be in the context of some variety of apology (in which case there should also be a whole body point with a handshake).
Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 3209: G7 Summit - Angela Merkel, Barack Obama and Matteo Renzi - and a Major Body Language Faux Pas
17. Even though over a hundred million American's will be listening and watching you - act as if you're speaking with four or five of your best friends in your own living room. And when you're doing this - although you're speaking regarding subjects for which you're more knowledgeable - keep in mind that you love these people and you have empathy for them.
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