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Posted at 6:30 PM ET, 01/26/2011

State of the political body language: Did Obama, Ryan, Bachmann have the moves to impress at SOTU?

By The Reliable Source

Oh, you thought it was about what they said? Whether you realize it or not, as you sat on your couch listening to the State of the Union and GOP responses, you probably made up your mind based on how they said it. Or so we're told by the professionals who analyze the mysterious arts of the "nonverbals" -- body language, vocal tone, all the subtleties that convey sincerity -- in politics. We got two of our regular teams to watch for us -- Democratic coaching/consulting firm KNP Communications; and a pair of academics, Karen Bradley (University of Maryland) and Karen Studds (George Mason), both Laban movement analysts -- and describe the highs and lows.

Updated Friday Jan. 28


(Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images)

President Obama

The scholars of body language are typically impressed with him and found him stronger than usual on Tuesday. POTUS was "projecting a lot of strength," say the KNP team, using a staccato rhythm and an emphatic finger point to underscore lines like his warning to al-Qaeda that "we will not relent, we will not waver, and we will defeat you." A subtler, actorly touch: the way he lowered his voice to just above a whisper for his triumph-of-the-American-spirit moment ("We do big things!"). Said KNP, "It created a sense of intimacy." Big improvement: Obama's tendency to hold his chin high can make it seem like he's looking down his nose -- but he did it the right way at SOTU, while talking about the American dream ("We believe in the same promise that says you can make it if you try"), which conveyed a pride shared with the rest of the country.


(AP)

Rep. Paul Ryan

A big step up onto a national stage for the Wisconsin Republican, and the Bradley/Studds team was unimpressed by the way his head bobbed around while his body seemed frozen. Why does that matter? Because it's natural to move when you talk, and Ryan appeared to have "lost all connection to what he was saying," the academics said. KNP nicked him for keeping his eyebrows raised through most of his speech -- conveying an exaggerated alarm -- but praised him for conveying warmth through a natural smile and steady gaze: "The only one of the night's speakers to make eye contact."


(AP)

Rep. Michele Bachmann

Ah, yes, eye contact. Much buzz about why the tea party favorite from Minnesota was gazing just left of center; her office did not return an e-mail, but many assume her teleprompter was misaligned. Unfortunate, say the KNP folks, because "looking directly at your audience increases your emotional impact substantially." [Update, Jan. 28: A producer explains there were two cameras, and Bachmann was looking into the one set up for a TeaPartyHD.com Web cast, not the networks' cameras.] Otherwise, say Bradley/Studds, she's not bad. Her body language supports her verbal message -- gathering-up gestures, firm fists, when needed. But they're not fond of the seemingly rehearsed smiles.



Read earlier:
Read Her Lips. And Hands. Oh, And Eyes, Too; At Debate, Nonverbal Cues May Speak Louder Than Words (Sept. 28, 2007)
Analyzing the dance of the GOP Debaters (Dec. 11, 2007)

By The Reliable Source  | January 26, 2011; 6:30 PM ET
Categories:  Politics  
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Comments

Did anybody notice the snub Obama gave to Hillary? After the speech he was shaking hands making his down the line of his cabinet members. She was the last one and after shaking her neighbor's hand, he abruptly turned right and dove into a group of people who were standing there. Hillary was standing there, actually kind of wringing her hands as waited for his attention which she never received. I went back and watched that part again, to make sure it happened. She was dissed!

Posted by: rickjnsd | January 27, 2011 12:23 PM | Report abuse

Indeed the slight was noticed. The same as in the 2008 State of the Union speech in the Congress chambers, when then Senator Obama, slighted then Senator Clinton, both front runner presidential candidates, with the same non-verbal behavior of turning his back and ignoring his colleague's presence and entreaties at civility. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is an excellent Cabinet Official, and would have been the more mature and wise president.

President Obama's State of the Union speech is to be credited for his focus on education, which has implications for teaching anti-bullying in the schools and civility in our public discourse, including here in our nation's capital.

Posted by: drhafieldsmsncom | January 27, 2011 1:35 PM | Report abuse

On the way to the podium just prior to the speech, POTUS had a very warm exchange with HRC, which included a kiss on the cheek. So I seriously doubt there was an intended snub afterwards. If anything, he probably personally acknowledged those folks on the way out that he did not personally greet on the way in. Tim Geithner, for example.

Posted by: bigskells | January 27, 2011 2:00 PM | Report abuse

Indeed the slight was noticed. The same as in the 2008 State of the Union speech in the Congress chambers, when then Senator Obama, slighted then Senator Clinton, both front runner presidential candidates, with the same non-verbal behavior of turning his back and ignoring his colleague's presence and entreaties at civility. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is an excellent Cabinet Official, and would have been the more mature and wise president.

President Obama's State of the Union speech is to be credited for his focus on education, which has implications for teaching anti-bullying in the schools and civility in our public discourse, including here in our nation's capital.

Harriet A. Fields

Posted by: drhafieldsmsncom | January 27, 2011 2:00 PM | Report abuse

It is so sad when the Post writers have to show their ignorance on so many subjects. The fact is, Michele was indeed "looking directly" at her audience because she was looking at the camera for her web feed where most of her audience is. Got it? That was a CNN camera that was just off to the right of the web camera. See? Its really simple when you seek out the facts. You can play little games like this but you know its too late for your Demoblicans. I'm not a devotee of Michele Bachman (I prefer New Jersey Governor Chris Christie) but I have to enlighten the ignorants when they spew like this. Its going to be very hard for you when the Republicrats take back the Senate in 2012, isn't it? If Christie were running they would win the Presidency as well. Fact is, we're bankrupt, and no amount of b.s. by the bank-owned media can stop it. Or its aftermath.

Posted by: shred11 | January 27, 2011 2:24 PM | Report abuse

It is so sad when the Post writers have to show their ignorance on so many subjects. The fact is, Michele was indeed "looking directly" at her audience because she was looking at the camera for her web feed where most of her audience is. Got it? That was a CNN camera that was just off to the right of the web camera. See? Its really simple when you seek out the facts. You can play little games like this but you know its too late for your Demoblicans. I'm not a devotee of Michele Bachman (I prefer New Jersey Governor Chris Christie) but I have to enlighten the ignorants when they spew like this. Its going to be very hard for you when the Republicrats take back the Senate in 2012, isn't it? If Christie were running they would win the Presidency as well. Fact is, we're bankrupt, and no amount of b.s. by the bank-owned media can stop it. Or its aftermath.

Posted by: shred11 | January 27, 2011 2:26 PM | Report abuse

It is so sad when the Post writers have to show their ignorance on so many subjects. The fact is, Michele was indeed "looking directly" at her audience because she was looking at the camera for her web feed where most of her audience is. Got it? That was a CNN camera that was just off to the right of the web camera. See? Its really simple when you seek out the facts. You can play little games like this but you know its too late for your Demoblicans. I'm not a devotee of Michele Bachman (I prefer New Jersey Governor Chris Christie) but I have to enlighten the ignorants when they spew like this. Its going to be very hard for you when the Republicrats take back the Senate in 2012, isn't it? If Christie were running they would win the Presidency as well. Fact is, we're bankrupt, and no amount of b.s. by the bank-owned media can stop it. Or its aftermath.

Posted by: shred11 | January 27, 2011 2:27 PM | Report abuse

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