Body language experts say Republican had upper hand in faceoff

Obama pats Romney on the back after the Presidential Debate at the University of Denver on October 3, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

WASHINGTON: Experts in body language agreed Thursday that Mitt Romney bested Barack Obama in the U.S. presidential debate when it came to wooing voters gestures as well as words.

Where the Democratic incumbent perhaps came across as weary and off-balance, his Republican challenger had clearly upped his game for the first televised clash of the alpha dogs in the run-up to the Nov. 6 vote.

“He was so dramatically different ... He was authentically passionate and thrilled at the battle,” said Patti Wood, author of “Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language and Charisma.”

Typically, she told AFP in a telephone interview, Romney in public has tended to say something, and then give a delayed supporting gesture – something humans are hard-wired to interpret as a sign of a lack of authenticity.

“But last night was just a total change,” with far more gestures in much better sync with his words, said Wood, who wondered if the candidate had downed “a quadruple espresso at Starbucks” prior to the debate.

“Mitt Romney made really good use of hand gestures,” agreed Janine Driver, author of the just-published “You Can’t Lie to Me” and a consultant to law enforcement agencies on body language.

“When people use hand gestures, it’s more memorable.”

“I think his body language was the result of his conviction and his preparation,” said Traci Brown, who lectures across the United States on the power of non-verbal persuasion.

“He was very eloquent. He didn’t say one ‘umm.’ He didn’t stutter any, whereas Obama did ... Romney showed personality. He showed the guy that Republicans had hoped he would be.”

It wasn’t a perfect 10 for Romney: Wood said he blinked often, indicating his stress level was high, and Driver noticed his “permasmile throughout the whole entire debate.”

“That comes across as phony,” the consultant said.

But that was still better than Obama, who Wood said may have given the wrong impression by bowing his head whenever Romney spoke, even if it might only have been to jot some notes on his podium.

“Unfortunately, when he says something and then he brings his head down, that can look like he looks defeated or not powerful,” she said. “Repeating this behavior can be read incorrectly, as it was in this case.”

“I think Obama did a lot of pursing his lips,” Brown told AFP by telephone from Colorado, where she lives. “That’s a sign of holding back and going into anger.”

The Republican National Committee sought Thursday to capitalize on Obama’s downward gaze in a carefully edited, one minute and 40 second Internet video excerpt of the debate that it titled “Smirk.”

Driver remarked how, in terms of posture, Romney “had a good head on his shoulders – by that I mean, literally, his head was in between his shoulders: straight.”

On the other hand, Obama, who usually holds his head the same way, as well as holding his chin up – a sign of confidence, if not arrogance – did not do so as much Wednesday.

Brown was meanwhile intrigued when Romney said he was running for president because “people are really hurting” – while at the same time shaking his head. “That is the furthest reason in the world why he is in this race, and his body language shows it,” she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 05, 2012, on page 11.




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