How Ignoring Your Presentation Body Language Can Lead to a Big Disaster…….

Posted on Sep 28

Two things have come together this week…..

I had a question sent to me on LinkedIn and I saw a TV ad for the upcoming US Presidential debates between Barak Obama and Mitt Romney.

How are the two connected?

The question was “I’m not really convinced that body language, gestures, facial expressions and appearance are as important as you make out. Doesn’t it ultimately just come down to what the speaker says?”

The answer is best illustrated by an example and that’s where the US Presidential debates come in……

The very powerful effect of body language, facial expression and appearance on how you are perceived is demonstrated  in the first Presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon.

Held on September 26, 1960, it was the first presidential debate between candidates from opposing political parties as well as the first one to be televised. At the time Richard Nixon was an experienced Vice President and John Kennedy was a young senator.

I actually heard part of this on the radio the other day.

If you only listen to the debate and not watch it then you can’t rely on the information that you normally receive through the gestures, facial expressions, appearance and body language of the speaker. You have to rely on the tonality, cadence, rhythm etc. of the voices of the two speakers to make up your mind about who is better.

On the radio Richard Nixon comes across as more convincing and stronger in his message while John Kennedy sometimes stumbles over what he is saying and comes across as more unconvincing.

In fact at the time the electorate listening on radio agreed and as far as they were concerned Richard Nixon won the first debate by a landslide.

But those who watched on TV came to a very different conclusion……..

Richard Nixon appeared emaciated, unhealthy, and awkward. He had just arrived at the studio after a strenuous campaign in which he made appearances in all 50 states. He refused to have makeup applied to his face, and had not shaved, making his stubble clearly visible to television viewers. He looked dishevelled and was sweating as the debate went on. He seems nervous, avoids looking into the camera, licking his lips, and looks down a lot – all of which makes him appear to be untrustworthy. His grey suit seemed to blend in with the background, especially on the era’s black and white television screens. Nixon told his advisors that style doesn’t matter- what matters is the substance of the speech.

In contrast John Kennedy was very conscious of his style how he came across on TV. He looks straight into the camera and it feels as if he is speaking directly to you the viewer. He had taken time to rest before the debates and appeared handsome, tanned and confident. His suit contrasted well against the background which made him stand out. He appears confident and relaxed and someone who can be trusted.

The result for those who watched on TV was a landslide victory for John Kennedy and many say that this was a significant factor in his subsequent win in the presidential election.

Body language, gestures, facial expressions and appearance are what we use unconsciously to make judgements about other people and whether or not we can trust them  and Richard Nixon paid a huge price for not being able to manage his state.

So do body language, gesture, facial expressions and appearance matter in your presentation?

I’ll leave you to decide…….

Until next time,

With best wishes for your success,


p.s. You can see  a short clip of the debate  at:

Cath Daley Ltd.

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Posted on Sep 28 in Business Pitching, Business Presentations, Communication skills, Presentation Skills, Public Speaking

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