Patti Reveals Body Language Tips for the Presidential Candidates During the Upcoming Debates

Patti was asked by a National Correspondent for NPR Digital News to weigh in on three important questions concerning the body language of President Obama and Govenor Mitt Romney and what they need to do during the upcoming presidential debates to win the vote of the people.  See her insights below:
1)    As a body language specialist, what specific advice do you have for Pres. Obama during the debates? 

A.      In the past Obama’s debating style has included great eye contact, a weak laid back style at the beginning and then powerful passionate body language at the end. There was a weak first impression (primacy effect) but an excellent ending (regency effect.)
I suggest he come out strong, warm and charismatic before he begins speaking and make a strong positive first statement before he responds to the first questions.
I would coach him and say, “President Obama, smile more as you make strong positive statements. When you speak about how great and hardworking Americans are and what this country is and has become. “
From now on he is not speaking to just Democrats so he can’t speak with venom about the other guys out there. He is speaking to everyone so he needs to connect more with the audience, he can’t seem angry with his audience or he’s ashamed of us.

B.      He is sounding and looking tired and strained. He needs to relax his voice so he can use it to make us feel confident in him. As a nonverbal communication expert, I have analyzed hundreds of hours of tapes of political leaders and candidates and written and spoken about them.  I have received more emails about my reads of Barack Obama’s voice. His voice use to be very rhythmical, powerful and charismatic and he spoke with ease very loudly without any vocal strain.  Deep, low voices are perceived, according to research, as more authoritative, believable and trustworthy and you can hear his voice coming from the TV in another room and feel its authority and power. Hilary Clinton’s voice strain in the last presidential campaign severely affected her credibility and perceived warmth. A change in Obama’s voice now will affect our perception of him.

C.      He had great positive emotional moments and gestures in his DNC speech. He needs to pull some of that emotion and passion into the debates.  He needs to gesture upwards above the waist as he speaks about where we can go to symbolically show he wants and can bring us joy and hope. And he also needs and look up and out to the future.  His last campaign he did this as he talked about change.

D.     He has started this new bizarre habit that I call “The Tobacco Chew’ where he seems to  cleanse his tongue in his mouth, pursing his lips then pushing his lips outwards and down and out as he says distasteful things (Look at *:59 in his DNC speech) He did this over 20 times in his DNC speech. He needs to look at that tape and note what motivated him to do that. Stop making statements that call forth that emotion and smile more instead.

2)    What specific advice do you have for Gov. Romney?

The single most important piece of advice for Governor Romney is to show genuine warm emotion in his voice and body language. A credible candidate’s movement, gestures and expressions are in sync with what you are saying. Governor Romney should move more to illustrate what he is saying so that we feel he is speaking sincerely.  Look at Romney at minute 7:38 of his RNC speech. He says “When every new wave of immigrants looked up to the statue of liberty or knelt down to kiss the shores of freedom.” but, as he says that vividly visual and emotional content he doesn’t move or look up or gesture up as he speaks of freedom or move or look down to kiss the shores.  There is no Ah or wonder or gratefulness. This unfortunately makes him look like someone who memorized a speech. Again at (10:45 or so) his words are passionate and his voice, in this case, does show emotion but, his body is stiff as he says, “Work harder… hug your kids a little longer. His voice and movement should be in sync.

When someone is genuinely feeling an emotion as they speak the speaker feels the emotion in their limbic brain where body language is processed and they show that true emotion with their body language before the speaker moves to the neo cortex to access the words they want to use to express what they are feeling. As the viewer just a beat before a candidate says I love America we should see the candidate reach out and up, and or smile and look out at the crowd then hear the words, I love the United States of America. Just a beat before we hear their body language express it and we hear it in their voice.

Perhaps due to his car accident, Romney holds his back and pelvis very stiffly.
Gesture more over all. We know his car accident may be the cause of his overall stiff appearance, but he can move and he needs to have more animated and passionate emotional movement, facial and vocal expression. The speech writers did a good job on his RNC speech giving him several emotional stories to share in the first half of his speech and Romney did an excellent job of expressing his parent’s emotional rose story (“…every day dad gave mom a rose” pointing and his eyes teared up. My mom and dad were true partners. Should women have less say than our men? Eyes welled up, his voice cracked.)But his speech coaches needed to get him to reveal more. Many feel that he is hiding his money; he needs to show nonverbally he is not keeping anything from us.

Stiff posture and little passionate body movement - He only has had a handful of gestures in the first 15 minutes of his RNC speech. For example, when he says “…freedom…to build” his arms should have swept up. Instead he stands frozen, arms at his side, not looking out at the audience or up. Then his first gesture as he says, “But not just what we wanted but it’s what Americans deserved.” (9:05) here is a rather puny pinched finger gesture down rather than a passionate sweep up or to the heart. He needs to be present in the moment and connect more with the audience. For much of the RNC speech he seemed into himself rather than connected to his wildly enthusiastic fellow republicans. He needs to look out at everyone and then speak using the power of the pause.

For example he said in the RNC speech With your help we will do something,” He should have looked at the audience, swept his arm out to everyone and said, “With your help.” Then done

an open palm up Gathering Gesture gesturing out towards the audience paused slightly as he looked at them and made a real connection and then brought the gesture back to himself. Instead he kept his hands frozen at his sides and then at (11:23) you see him do eye shutter and close his mouth. Indicating nonverbally Romney either didn’t feel we can do something or he does not feel he needs our help.

See my blog post at Patti reads the Body Language of the Presidential Candidates and Other Speakers at the Republican and Democratic Conventions if you would like more on the convention.

3)    Can you list Three Secrets of Successful Body Language when it comes to political debates – dos and don’ts?

 In my new book SNAP- Making the Most of First Impressions Body Language and Charisma I share that there are four “first Impression factors” we assess when we first meet somebody – credibility, likeability, attractiveness, and power. Charisma profoundly affects which candidate we vote for.  Charisma is based on the last three factors. So I would say the secrets are to

Be Charismatic, Be Powerful –To be powerful you have to take up space nonverbally, be tall, gesture out and away from the body and use a low full voice. (See more on the four first impression factors and charisma below.   Be likable – Let your emotions show. Make sure your emotions and your nonverbal messages are in synch. Speak warmly and have a big, likeable smile and have laser focused eye contact and connect with the audience (See more on likeability below.) and of course be attractive.

Most research says when it gets down to the final two candidates we vote for the most charismatic one. In fact a candidate can have little or no credibility but his or her charisma will win our hearts and our votes. Charisma overrides our ability to detect someone’s deceit. To understand how people use non-verbal behavior to come to those SNAP judgments, we need to understand these four factors.

The first and most important factor they are looking for is credibility. When a person has credibility, they are who they say they are. You can trust them and you can feel safe. Credibility is a very critical aspect to first impressions. 

When a person demonstrates likeability, she smiles easily, laughs easily, and uses friendly upper body language. She shows emotions and visible expressions that allow us to know how she’s feeling. The opposite of likeability is a lack of expression and affect, and often, a monotone voice.

A person who demonstrates likeability does so in person or over the phone. You know immediately he is likable. Sometimes, it’s as simple as how expressive he is. And like credibility, it’s a universal recognition. We can recognize likeability in the first split seconds we meet someone.

Likeability is not commonality, which can be summed up in the statement, “I like this person because they’re like me.” Likeability is more a factor of their affect, personality, warmth, gregariousness, and friendliness. A person who is likable turns and looks at you and opens their body windows to you when they are talking to you. In likeability, you open yourself up to connect with other people.

 Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional - The Body Language Expert. For more body language insights go to her website at Also check out the body language quiz on her YouTube Channel at

Patti's Reads the Body Language of the Presidential Candidates and Other Speakers at the Republican and Democratic Conventions

Click the link below to see Patti on CNN and hear her insights!

Here are Patti's rough notes from her recent appearance on CNN reading the body language at the Republican and Democratic Conventions.
Romney’s entrance: 14

His face is smiling. But look at how stiff his back is tension rod up through his back and neck. (He looks like he hurt his back.  He is so stiff.  His body is in a straight line. He keeps his lower body away.  Romney doesn’t do what I call the Clinton lean in.  When he came up he would step in and bring his whole body around each person in a symbolic embrace.

He comes out on stage.  His body stiff and hunched as he walks to the podium. He gives a rather stilted hand to heart gesture but it looks like faked humility. He is acting humble and teary-eyed but here he’s not in the moment.  He is acting to the audience rather than connected to them as he comes on stage.

Stiff posture no emotional Body Movement - He is more animated than in past speeches but he still has that stiff body language. (Time code 7:10 and then at more so at 7:38 he is talking about freedom, but his body is locked, arms at sides freedom to build a life)  This video doesn’t show him in close up it goes to the crowd but in the video I first watched his gestures should come up.  Only a handful of gestures in first 15 minutes of speech

Lack of Synchronicity of words and message - you move to illustrate what you are saying make us feel a candidate is sincere. Instead look at Romney 7:38 (This is so wild watch him say “Again when every new wave of immigrant’s looked up to the statue of liberty or knelt down to kiss the shores of freedom.” But in that truly emotional content. He doesn’t move or look up or gesture up as he speaks of freedom. He looks like a little kid who memorized a speech.

First real gesture at Puny gesture - When He says”freedom to build” his arms should have swept up. Instead he stands frozen.  But not just what we wanted but it’s what Americans deserved. (9:05) He gives his first gesture a puny pinched finger gesture down.  This gesture pressing the thumb against index and pointy finger make a point not a weapon like he wants to squeeze emotion out of you and make my point.

Again at (10:45 or so) his words are passionate and his voice has emotion but his body is stiff as he says, “Work harder… Hug your kids a little longer. Again no illustrator gestures. Made it ring false.  As he said, “I wish Obama had succeeded because I wanted America to succeed.” I wished he had shown more passion. “

Lack of connection to audience “With your help we will do something,” He had the opportunity to look at the audience and do an open palm Gathering Gesture gesturing out and bring the gesture back to himself.  Instead he kept his hands frozen at his sides and then at (11:23) you see him do eye shutter and close his mouth. Indicating nonverbally Romney either doesn’t feel we can do something or he does not feel he needs our help. Gestures my country deserves better point down cupped hand.

Great Emotional Moment - Typically in Romney’s speech his voice is very monotone.  In this speech he has more emotion in his voice than any other speech and has some genially emotional moment. One of the few in first 15 minutes, “every day dad gave mom a rose” pointing, and his eyes teared up. My mom and dad were true partners. Should women have less say than our men?  Eyes welled up his voice cracked.


Comes out claps with the crowd.  It’s not about him.  He smiles and says thank you several times.

Starts his speech real and warm (:49 “Michele I love you so much,” This is a very warm real moment. Uses humor quickly and well as he makes a reference to his daughter’s behavior” Lightens the first moment.

He leans forward opens and grabs the podium “I accept the nomination for president” then he bows slightly forward slightly humble and holding in emotion flat tight smile.

Gestures frequently and comfortably 4:12 he is giving multiple gestures in a sentence. Expressing himself comfortably.  Both fists closed (5:34 or so) double our exports.

Tobacco chew finds much of what he has to say distasteful. Challenges of our time. 8:59 does that over 20 times in the first half of his speech.

Truly emotional 1 Veteran story, He gives me hope. Share that hope with me. I ask you tonight for your vote, his voice is emotional and truly humble.

Great Strength in his gestures “If you believe that new energy can power our future. Ladders of ..” Watch his gestures grow in strength size and frequency.

Best moment in his speech for Democrats (38:09) “Every One gets a fair shot voice cracks with powerful emotions. Deserves his fair share.

Best example of his best gestures. (38:38 or so) He says, “Yes our path is harder. Yes our road is longer but we travel he grasps up as if to ask us to pull ourselves up from our bootstraps.

(39.20 or so) We pull each other up... We draw strength from victories. Gesture strike out hold out, keep our eyes fixed on that distant horizon.

Finger pointing

Clinton is laughing and smiling and very comfortable with the crowd roaring after he is introduced. That is very hard to do.  We are here to nominate a president (long power of the pause) and I GOT one in mind Clinton, First Thank you his voice is warm.   We have got one in mind, Point gestures high and confident finger point, crisp and elevated thumb clasp points slow slide then at 1:26 knowing all the while hands up above waist palms open fingers spread.

1:16 Clinton is strong and confident and in control right out of the gate.

Listen to his voice striking on each word the pausing, “Just six weeks before the elections,

2.06 “A man who believes with no doubt.”

Clinton gestures with almost every single statement. He has over 14 gestures in the first minute and 45 seconds of his speech.  These frequent gesture show he is confident. Sure of his feeling and open to revealing them.

6:14 Watch Clinton use the power of the point as he says, “We know that investments in education and infrastructure they increase new jobs. “

Jennifer Granholm:   Great emotion enthusiasm open posture. She has more fun than any other speaker. Stand- up comic Pep squad Glee club of speakers.  Show us her side. Holds the gesture longer. Waits for the full impact of her words and gestures.

Chris Christie - Enjoys himself out of the box.  New Jersey republican. Likeable and funny Comedy. Emphasis he knows how to punch just the right word.  On the first four minutes he says we have to FIGHT, or I am HER son He gestures naturally and easily, though at times slow and delayed. 

Open palm internal state of openness and honesty. In Clinton, Granholm, Ann Romney
Closed palm dominance and authority can you get that for me.

Ann Romney consistent open window body language show. Open palm internal state of openness and honesty.

Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional - The Body Language Expert. For more body language insights go to her website at Also check out the body language quiz on her YouTube Channel at