Body language a big determiner of debate winner - FOX 10 News | myfoxphoenix.com

Body language a big determiner of debate winner

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PHOENIX -

Wednesday is the big night -- the first debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney.

While both candidates are focusing on what they'll say, they are also focusing on how they'll look, because body language can determine who wins and loses.

Your clothes, your gestures, your facial expressions -- all these things are as much part of a candidate's message as any political position or policy argument.

You could even say a candidate's image and demeanor could make a bigger impression than anything they say.

1960, John F. Kennedy: tanned, relaxed, looking sharp in a dark suit. Richard Nixon: tense, pale, his light suit blending into the wall behind him. Voters who watched the debates liked Kennedy better and he won the election.

Fast forward to George H. W. Bush. He looks at his watch when asked a question. That made him look like he'd rather be someplace else. Not good.

Which gestures work?

We asked an expert in nonverbal communication at the Hugh Downs School of Communication at ASU.

"This is called a baton gesture. It is appropriate if it is purposeful and goes with what you are saying verbally," said Prof. Laura Guerrero.

But don't fold your arms.

"It will show you are defensive. Either that you have been attacked or you are anticipating an attack," said Guerrero.

In Wednesday's debate, both candidates will be on the receiving end of attacks. How do they deal with it?

"Smile, act like it doesn't ruffle you, that is the key. You must look composed."

The stakes are so high, you'd figure both sides have body language coaches.

"They probably have advisers who help them with that. They should if they don't."

Here's a bit of body language you may see a lot: a steepling gesture with your hands, like a church steeple. It lets the candidates look relaxed and frees up their arms to gesture to make a point.

Non-verbal communication will be a big part of the debate.

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