It sounds like a far-fetched claim and it’s likely a few of you will be raising an eyebrow at the thought, if not the prospect of his leadership. Without doubt, throughout their campaigns Hilary certainly won many battles in terms of what most body language experts would recommend. Indeed, even Fox TV scored her A minus on non verbal communication following the 2nd televised debate, with Trump achieving a mere C.
Is body language relevant at all? How is it that Trump won the election and Hilary didn’t and what role did body language have to play
What’s the background behind this?
Mehrabian theory is often dragged out as a ‘founder’ researcher. His research is equally often misrepresented. He found that body language communicates 55% of what we are feeling, tone, 38% and words only 7%. Note that the research only pertains to people expressing feelings and where there are inconsistencies between what we say we feel and how we actually feel. Since Mehrabian there has been an abundance of research; books (75 pages of them on Amazon and only 1 was on the body language of horses); TED talks and blogs on body language. Amy Cuddy on imitating power poses making you more powerful and more recent research from the university of Zurich contradicting her findings.
Despite the volume of research, consensus does exist on the importance of keeping an open torso; of certain ‘power poses’ and of course using our bodies to reify the messages we want to give; conveying confidence and competence. It’s also agreed that we need to read non-verbal signals in clusters, never interpreting a person’s reactions based on a single gesture and getting a base-line – knowing how that person communicates none-verbally as a general rule helps in interpreting their movements more accurately.
What were the differences in none verbal communication between Trump and Clinton?
There were many contrasting aspects of each candidates’ body language throughout the campaign. Trump consistently used oodles of overt power gestures: finger pointing; holding his hands at chest height and using chopping movements as pictured; maintaining eye contact with all parts of the room and physically taking up space, puffing out both chest and jaw. The sniff did detract somewhat, on the 2nd round of the televised debates, it’s one of the reasons for the C grade no doubt as it can be a sign of nervousness; yet it’s also a sign of being human…
Whilst Hilary displayed many of the physical signs thought to display leadership; calmness; composure; considered; people often like to see people who look like us. Trumps grand gestures; his visible anger; defensive gestures; frowns and free use of hands and facial gestures arguably reflected the mood of more than half a nation, disenfranchised communities looking for power and certainty. in fact, his lack of physical composure also paid off as it was none-establishment and more like your err average Jose Mendezes – at least that may explain why he won 21% of the Latino vote despite the words that were used against their community.
Changes in stance throughout the campaign
Both Clinton and Trump also subtly (and less subtly) changed their poses according to the messages they wanted to send out throughout the campaign. When Trump was receiving bad press for his cavalier approach, he walked so slowly (so as to demonstrate gravitas) onto televised debates I wondered if he would get to the podium. Following his success; during his acceptance speech, Trumps body language was a little calmer; in keeping with his message of being a president for all and of being ‘presidential’.
When poll feedback rated her as ‘distant’ and ‘elitist’, Clinton began to smile more; (with a reasonable proportion of smiles seeming to actually reach her eyes) and lowered her chin slightly. As the campaign heated up and spectacularly so, in the last few hours of the campaign, we saw her using more and more power gestures; to the point of actual finger pointing (a favourite of Trumps); a gesture so dominant that most decline to use it or use versions of it, as in the image. As distrust became the focal point Clinton maintained an open stance more often, displaying her torso for all to see, using open gestures with her palms open at around a 45% angle.
So why didn’t she win?
It’s so easy to oversimplify this. I’ll resist. One reason amongst many is that Clintons’ composed body language; steadiness and efforts to control her more natural physical reactions fed into the discourse of distrust that so deeply damaged her campaign. Her body language was more manufactured. Trump on the other hand physically mirrored the anger; frustration and desire to take control that exists within large sectors of the population. To the point of wearing a baseball cap on the eve of the election, Trump physically mirrored many of this supporters. Tip – wearing a baseball cap shading your eyes is not something I generally advocate doing whilst speaking in public.
So six more Top tips coming out of this:
1. Always go with your natural style
2. Beware the false smile
3. If you must fake-smile, crinkle your eyes up and flash your eyebrows, oh and let it fade slowly…
4. Avoid over-smiling in serious situations
5. Avoid over-thinking it – practice until you achieve something like unconscious competence
6. Where you can safely generalise, match the mood of your audience