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