Take Note!

obama-takes-notes-at-debate.jpg As I watched the televised debate between Senators Clinton and Obama, I was struck by one particular piece of “stage craft.” I found it to be annoying. It distracted my attention from what was actually being said. What was it?

Senator Obama was diligently writing notes every time that Senator Clinton spoke – at least during the first 45 minute segment. Why was he doing this?  Surely he had prepared his remarks and rebuttals ahead of time. At this point in the campaign, he had to have heard Senator Clinton’s arguments, stump speeches and 9-point plans ad nauseum. Very little new ground was being broken during the debate. So why was he so preoccupied with his note taking?

It’s simple really! The answer is, it was “staged!” Barack Obama wanted to avoid two things:

  1. Looking directly at Hillary Clinton as she spoke – I felt that his note-taking distracted my attention from her words.
  2. Reacting physically to her comments – he did not wish to convey his agreement with, surprise at or anger about any of her comments. His body language probably would have conveyed defensiveness and weakness had he not kept himself busy scribbling his notes as his opponent spoke.

Was this effective? Perhaps. Several professional observers have commented on Obama’s unconscious physical reactions when he is criticized. He winces noticeably. He tends to withdraw. He looks pained. He looks less than confident.

But the good news is… at least he stopped “raising his hand” asking permission from the moderator to speak! For that reason alone, the diligent note taking was an improvement.

Why does body language matter? Here’s why:

Studies show that in face-to-face communication only 7% of our message is directly dependent on the words that we use. Surprised? Well, 38% of our message is attributed to the tone of voice that we use as we speak those words. This means that if our tone of voice matches the words that we use, we amplify the importance of those words. If our tone of voice does not match the words – if it is in-congruent – than we sabotage our message.

Now add in the 3rd dimension – our non-verbal communication – our “body language.” These same studies show that 55% of our message is directly attributed to our non-verbal communication. Does our body language “match” our words and tone of voice? If yes, that is good! If not… ? Well, you can answer that yourself. And we do!

Which is why Senator Obaama was so busy taking notes while Senator Clinton spoke. He – and his team, I suppose – studied the videos of earlier debates. They noticed that his winces, his furrowed brow, his defensive reactions to the words of his opponent. They needed to devise a “prop” to keep him from projecting these negative gestures. They needed to help him to improve his non-verbal communication. They needed to prevent him from sabotaging his message!

And they were somewhat successful. Improvement is still needed. He needs to move away from “props” and master the language of his body. Anyone who aspires to a position of leadership must do the same.

Senator Clinton has definitely improved her non-verbal communications. She is starting to feel more comfortable in letting us see her warmer side. She still has a long way to go to make this a consistent and natural part of her communications – and perhaps it is too late to save her campaign for the nomination this year.

Here is something that I noticed about Hillary during the debate. When Barack Obama drew attention to her latest campaign slogan – “Let’s get real” – she was almost giggling as he – effectively – refuted her claim that he is “an empty suit” who nevertheless delivers wonderful speeches that mesmerize his followers.

She was nearly laughing out loud as Sen. Obama listed the number of respected endorsements – from newspapers, television stations and others – that he has received. She seemed to take him literally when he said that sometimes campaigns enter the “silly season.” Silly indeed! Her reactions during this crucial segment of the debate conveyed this message – “You are right. That was a lousy tactic. A bad slogan to use. I’ll just have to fire the person on my staff who wrote and suggested that I use that slogan.”

We listen with our eyes! Learn to master your non-verbal communications. We believe what we see – not what we hear. 

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