body language presidential candidates

Body Language:

Presidential Debates



brain literally peanut butter
socks match (3) heart-monitor
script campaign prove/proved/proven
debate candidate buy/bought/bought (2)
overly town hall format (2)
trail object (3) pick up (3)
relate point (3) campaign trail
hurt palm up stay away from
gun palm (2) come across (2)
respect mistake combination
chop round (2) all over (2)
mixed dream (2) matter (2)
pro audience what do you make of it
frame thumb chipmunk
push game (2) moderator
hold anxiety rule of thumb
wrist review (2) permanent
vocal senator exchange (2)
duty gesture master (2)
pull engage perception
pivot transfer connect (2)
treat lean (2) aggressive
citizen level (3) shake hands
shake take time






Journalist: It’s not just the words that come out; it’s how you say them with your body.

Janine Driver, Body Language Expert: Literally our brain, if I say to you, ‘I’ll have a peanut-butter on my socks, please,’ your brain does a heart-monitor that says, ‘What? I don’t understand.’ Same thing when someone says, ‘This is the American dream; that’s not my American dream.’

So when your body language does not match your words, our brain literally picks up on it, scientifically proven. Colgate University did a study. It says wait a minute — I’m not buying what the candidate is saying, or what they’re objecting to. I feel it’s overly scripted or overly coached.

Journalist: Okay, let’s take a look at some videos. We haven’t really seen Mitt Romney in a town-hall style debate yet. But this is him on the campaign trail. He does a lot of pointing, which, I know from past conversations with you, candi-dates usually try to stay away from.

What do you make of his gesture?

Janine Driver, Body Language Expert: Much better in the second round here, when he started gesturing with the palm of his hand like we see here.

But pointing, how do you feel when someone points at you? It’s almost like I’m pointing a gun at you. It comes across as aggressive when you’re pointing.

Journalist: that’s why they do that thumb . . .

Janine Driver, Body Language Expert: The thumb of power. That’s right. The thumb of power right here; it’s a combination of pointing and chopping. It’s much better and softer. Or a palm up.

Mitt Romney loves to point. I think it’s going to hurt him in the debate tomorrow.

Journalist: Let’s take a look at President Obama in a town hall format. He got mixed reviews; in general, what do you make of him?

Janine Driver, Body Language Expert: I think Obama is a pro at this town hall format. Why? He’s a master communicator. He’ll look over here and connect with you. And then he’ll look over here and connect with people.

Mitt Romney, I think we’re going to see tomorrow night, he’s like a bird or chip-munk — he’s all over the place with his eye-contact.

He did really well in his last debate.


There were two places he had to look: at the President, and he had to look at the moderator.

So Obama is doing the thumb of power that you see right here.

Journalist: He’s not pointing; he’s doing the thumb of power.

Janine Driver, Body Language Expert: And he’s got both feet directly next to each other. We see this when he’s got both feet in the game. His feet will be in the game tomorrow.

In the last debate, Obama had his left foot pushed back behind his right foot. This says, ‘I don’t need to have both feet in the game.

Journalist: What should the other candidate do when the other candidate is talk-ing?

Look right here. Do you see right there? We have McCain holding his wrist. The rule of thumb is that the higher the hold, the more anxiety is told.

You should think about what they are saying. Mitt Romney had the perma-smile on the last debate. The President was saying, ‘when you’re fifty-five and sixty years old, listen up: this matters on your health care system.

And Mitt Romney had a permanent smile.

Journalist: There was a town hall exchange in 2004 between Senator Kerry and President Bush. Let’s watch that because President Bush got very vocal.

President Bush: I gotta answer this.
Moderator: With reservists being held on duty . . .
President Bush: Let me just answer what he just said about this. You tell Tony Blair we’re going alone. Tell Tony Blair we’re going alone. Tell Silvio Berlusconi we’re going alone.

Janine Driver, Body Language Expert: Let me tell you what I like about it. The rule of thumb with our gestures is gestures should be within the frame of our body. When we get bigger, we can do that when we’re talking to a bigger audience.

When we see George Bush, he takes his hand out, he’s saying, ‘this is a big issue right here. I need to address what just happened.

He puts that hand out . . . and then he continues to walk as if he is pulling us along with that.

Now body language has a lot to do with your perception. It’s not scientific. Every time you do this doesn’t mean you’re powerful.

But it can be perceived as powerful — it can be perceived, also, as arrogant.

Journalist: the other thing that’s difficult with a town hall is you’ve got to relate to the person who is asking the question, but at the same time, you need to pivot and attack the other candidate.

Janine Driver, Body Language Expert: Right. This is a big problem I’ve seen with past debates, Anderson, as soon as you ask me the question, people will turn, and they will start talking to the audience over here.

This is what I call a transference of power. If answer your question and treat you with respect with an open palm gesture, I look you in the eyes, I lean forward as I am talking and engaging you. If I treat you with respect, everyone at home who is watching is going to feel that if the President or if Mitt Romney was in front of them, they would treat the person at home with that same level of respect.

Journalist: So that’s particularly important in town hall debates where it was citi-zens asking the questions.

Janine Driver, Body Language Expert: And not everyone’s been great at it. I must say a lot of people immediately listen to your question and then they turn and try to work the crowd.

I think that’s a big mistake. It’s like a politician who shakes fifty hands and in-stead of the politician that takes time to say, ‘nice to meet you, sir.’


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1. It is possible for a person’s words and his body language to conflict each other. True or false? Which is more believable or credible?

2. Is it nice or polite to point at someone? What does pointing indicate?

3. What is the (better) alternative to pointing?

4. President Obama is only good at economics, foreign policy and law. Is this right or wrong? Give examples.

5. Did McCain feel very confident, relaxed and completely in control?

6. “And Mitt Romney had a permanent smile” (while Obama discussed health care). What does this mean?

7. Was President Bush rather dramatic? What happened?

8. What is the “transference of power”? What two examples did she give?


A. In your community, do people speak bluntly or do they choose their words carefully?

B. Is body language extremely important, important, in the middle, so-so, partially important, not so important or not important at all in your industry?

C. It would be very useful and help to read other people’s body language. Yes or no?

D. Would it be advantages to know and control your body language?

E. What will happen in the future?

F. What should people do?


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