George W. Bush must get rid of the grimaces and smirks, John Kerry is still struggling to put on a natural smile, experts said Friday after the first presidential debate between the two rivals.
While Kerry was given the best marks in some polls after Thursday night’s debate, communication experts said both contenders must work on their body language ahead of the two remaining presidential debates and the November 2 election.
According to Patti Wood, an Atlanta-based body language consultant, Bush had an assured first 30 minutes at the crucial first debate.
“But he seemed to run out of planned stuff to say and I think he became emotional,” added Wood, who has advised the US military and top firms on communications and body language.
“He repeated himself so much. When you repeat the same message it makes it look as though everything is planned and rehearsed. I think it made him look childish.”
Wood said Bush has a “tongue thrust” during speeches, but kept this under control at the University of Miami debate. “He only did it a few times.” But she added that Bush also “grimaced” and “smirked” a lot and must also control this in future debates.
“I think it made him look childish, they were not presidential gestures.”
Taking advantage of the debate, the Democratic National Committee on Friday released a 51 second video, titled “Faces of Frustration” comparing Bush’s facial expressions with Kerry’s.
But Kerry also has problems, Wood added.
“He appeared a little bit flustered during the first 30, minutes but gained in composure as it went on.”
Kerry “did not look at the camera so he was not engaging the American public. He has to look at the camera and give off more warmth from his voice and smile.”
Wood said there was a “a lot of anger in Kerry’s actions and his voice and we don’t vote for anger.”
Allan Bonner, a Canadian political economy academic who also teaches communications to North American executives, said the US president had been effective in reaching his core Christian right voter base.
Bush took control at the start of the debate by marching over to Kerry’s side of the stage to shake his hand, said Bonner.
But he also highlighted Bush’s grimaces while Kerry was attacking his record on Iraq. “The reactions showed Bush looking perplexed or flummoxed,” said Bonner. But the faces are not all bad for the president.
“Although it is not the kind of facial expressions I would counsel, I think it was authentic. Bush breaks a lot of rules, but at least he is seen as authentic.”
Bonner said Kerry swayed too much, “a bit like a horse,” and this made him look ineffective sometimes.
“Swaying below the waist can make him look shifty. I was surprised by his body movement.”
Bonner and other experts said that 50 percent to 70 percent of the impact made by speakers can come from their nonverbal body actions.
The Republican and Democratic campaigns set out 32 pages of regulations for the debates, mainly aimed at controlling how the candidates are seen on television screens.
According to Hogan, “that much restriction on the thinking of the two candidates body language will become far more important than the candidates themselves know. No one can control their nonverbal communication with this much attention being put on verbal communication.”