Monday, October 22, 2012

Is Compelling Communication Learned?

I recall a few years ago when football players first took up dance classes to develop balance and strength in their legs. The coaches quickly learned their players could also increase their reflexes and flexibility by taking yoga and karate classes. I was reminded of what was then considered revolutionary training while watching President Obama and Governor Romney navigate their debate space during the Tuesday town hall meeting at Hofstra University. 

Never before has the American electorate had the opportunity to see two candidates so closely matched physically as they present themselves non-verbally. There are slight and significant differences. Whether genetic, trained athletic ability, or just time spent shooting baskets, Obama’s slightly bow-legged slender frame is graceful and nimble. In contrast, Romney’s physique is solid and when he moves it is deliberate.

I suspect practice also divides them as Obama, whether from his days as a Chicago community organizer or his past four years as president, is used to being center stage and physically pushing himself out to meet an audience. He’s quite adept at moving effortlessly into a well-balanced stance with his weight evenly divided over both feet.
Obama also knows how to draw energy from an audience and uses his skill to make a visceral connection. It generally works well except for the times his words and movement say different things–and when that happens, there is a disconnect with his audience. 

Romney covers the same space with a forceful but less elegant stride. And once he gets in front of his audience or his questioner (as he did on Tuesday), his gaze is direct, his eye contact intense and his delivery and physical side match.

He is also disarmingly capable of becoming personal, as he did when he asked the student questioner when he would graduate from college and then, with a carefully crafted on-the-fly answer, firmly assured the student that he WOULD have a job when he graduated. 

When Mitt Romney connects with an audience, it’s because his body language isn’t edited. In that case Romney’s words and delivery matched, and his concern for the student was genuine.

An audience is always watching non-verbal communication and listening to a speaker’s words; the two must match for an effective oral presentation.

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