Body language signs to watch during the debates

Looking for clues about who is winning the big debate? Just watch for a few body language signs on the podium.

With critics looking at every aspect of President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney’s behavior, there were  two recent stories on the web sites for CNN and Forbes that broke down the candidate’s body language.

Both stories focused on the concept of “tells,” body language signs as they are interpreted by professional poker players. The players look at body language to see if an opponent is “tipping their hand” and giving away signs of confidence.

History professor Julian Zelizer told CNN that poor body language is a frequent mistake in presidential debates.

“The mistakes the presidential candidates have made over the years are numerous. Poor body language has been a common blunder,” said Zelizer.

Famous examples include Richard Nixon’s stares in the 1960 debate, George H.W. Bush’s watch gazing in 1992, Al Gore’s repeated sighing during the 2000 debates, and John McCain’s floor pacing in 2008.

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Body language signs to watch during the debates

The debate on Wednesday night in Denver will be on domestic policy and it will include discussions about health care and the economy.

Melissa Wade, a debate professor at Emory University, told CNN that viewers should watch the candidates’ hands for a clue.

“Romney is more aggressive, he talks with his hands more and is more animated. That’s not a good thing,” Wade said.

She also said President Obama has struggled in the town hall format, which is being used for the second debate, because he will revert to “professorial” behavior and appear to be lecturing the audience.

Another body language expert, Cara Hale Alter, tells Forbes that Obama is ahead of Romney in some key body language areas except one.

Obama gets a D from Alter for his lack of “facial fluidity,” which happens “when a leader locks his face into a set position, repressing the natural expressions that accompany his words.”

Alter says Obama will be expressionless with a poker face when he is hiding his emotions, while Romney tends to smile a lot when he’s trying to mask his emotions.

Legal legend Gerry Spence told NPR last week that the two debaters would do their best by avoiding stunts and keeping the debate as real as possible.

“Trickery has no place,” Spence told NPR. “People recognize it immediately.”

Another body language expert, Patti Wood, told NPR that Romney needs to show more emotion and use his hands in an expressive way. She said President Obama has sounded tired, and he needs to relax his voice to gain more confidence from the audience.

And if you need any more information about tells, here are some common perceptions about body language giveaways:

1. An itchy nose could be a sign that someone isn’t telling the truth. If someone is scratching their nose, there could be an issue.

2. Hands in pockets are a sign of insecurity.

3. Crossed arms don’t necessarily mean a person is angry or protective: It could just be cold in the studio where the debates are taking place!

4. Touching the neck could be a sign that someone is threatened or feels insecure.

5. Finger pointing is a sign of aggression and it can make the audience mistrust the speaker.

Another telltale sign, experts say, is frequent blinking by a speaker. It indicates a person is uncomfortable with the words they are saying.

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