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The power of nonverbal communication – learn from our Presidential candidates

Presentation Skills Matter
Presentation Skills Matter
John Moore/Getty Images

The Greek philosopher Aristotle, considered to be the “father of public speaking” taught that public speaking is about ethos, pathos and logos. The most admired, dynamic and powerful speakers in the world have used this combination to persuade and achieve buy-in from audiences. Ethos, the projected personality, is the art of using what you know to illustrate your point, pathos is the speaker’s use of emotional appeal and logos is using hard facts that are difficult to deny, the logical argument.

Ethos, pathos and logos are a no go, meaning they are not successful without a stellar presentation. Personality, emotions and facts have to be weaved together and presented with confidence, power and likability. This combination is essential to persuade and influence people. Read Andrew Dlugan’s article “Ethos, Pathos and Logos” 3 Pillars of Public Speaking at

None of us who watched the first Presidential debate could believe the President’s poor performance; it wasn’t so much the words he said but how he looked when he said them. We were stunned that such a gifted orator could forget the fundamentals of public speaking 101. It validated and reinforced the old cliché, it is not so much what you say but how you say it, and going by the political commentary given by both sides, the President was definitely lacking some ethos and pathos.

During the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner President Obama jokingly admitted that he was asleep during the first debate. Your presentation goes a long way in selling your vision and ideas, and if you’re in business, it goes a long way in selling your goods and service. In fact, according to Harvard business professor Amy J.C. Cuddy, it is scientifically proven that high power poses can reconfigure your brain so you feel more powerful.

Possessing the right information and presenting it in the right way, makes you feel confident and powerful, and it connects and engages your audience. Throughout my career I have been lucky enough to present all over the country. During the time I worked for a construction management company in New York City, our CEO would hit the ceiling when someone did not give the audience eye contact. There are certain things you must say and do to enhance your image as strong, confident, likable and effective.

The first rule of thumb is to maintain eye contact at those with whom you are speaking. This is public speaking 101. It was one of the major talking points discussed by both Democrats and Republicans of President Obama’s first debate debacle. Why was he looking down and not at Mitt Romney? He did not confront his opponent and in the process did not engage his audience. Lacking this critical nonverbal was perceived as “he’s lost his mojo.”

Regardless of your political affiliation or admiration for one candidate over the other, one must concur that for the second debate, both candidates showed up with high doses of testosterone pumping through their veins and their mojos intact. In fact, there are rumors that both candidates are wearing boxing gloves for the third and final debate and instead of a Debate Moderator, there will be a Referee.

In all seriousness, to viscerally connect to your audience, you must have a message that relates to their issues and concerns. You have to know who they are, what they care about and a discussion that tells a story of what your vision is and how they will benefit. In the way that playing sports builds strong muscles, perseverance and team camaraderie, knowing what to say and how to say it empowers the speaker with power, strength and control. Nothing is more assuring to an audience than someone whose confidence makes them believe in what they’re saying.

So stand tall, use hand gestures in a calm, non mechanical way and don’t frown or look angry when someone else speaks. Never let the opponent know they’ve gotten under your skin. Judgment is made within the first 30 seconds; it may not be fair, but that’s how long it takes an audience to size you up. People hear what they see. You need to see what your audience will see and practice your speech until your face, body language and voice reflects what you want the audience to see and hear. Let them see confidence and they will hear trust. Let them see strength and they will forgo fear. Remember nothing beats your authentic self so practice your speech until you project the best, most confident you!


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