The Houston mayoral race soldiers on as November 3rd draws nearer, and top candidates counter weariness with polished answers and witty retorts. Last night’s forum, jointly hosted by the Clear Lake Area Republicans PAC and Bay Area Association of Democratic Women, was another opportunity for me to sample the nonverbal and verbal behaviors of the candidates and make some objective observations.
Body language plays a huge part in projecting likability, confidence, and believability. To maximize this, politicians often follow a similar strategy recommended for trial attorneys courting juries. They initially use a lot of palm-up gestures to elicit likability from the audience, saving more aggressive palm down motions that communicate confidence and determination when proposing solutions or making calls to action.
Candidates who overdo palm up gestures can weaken their position as they seem less confident, while those who overdo palm down gestures can seem overly bullish and arrogant.
Last night’s debate saw Marty McVey, Bill King, Sylvester Turner, and Ben Hall using this technique quite well. It was a shift from what I have seen from Ben Hall in earlier forums where he has relied more heavily on palm down gestures.
Chris Bell, former radio journalist, remains the most consistent candidate in relying on words and tone to win over supporters. His weapon of choice in a forum setting is to preface his response with a joke. This approach serves to clear the air of thoughts about what the last speaker said, changes the prevailing mood, and draws audience attention to what he is about to say.
Stephen Costello tends to keep both eyebrows raised while addressing the audience. Raised eyebrows can signify a question being asked, emphasis, uncertainty, agreement, disagreement, surprise, or fear depending on how they are used. But none of these meanings apply to eyebrows being held high continuously. This seems to be Costello’s baseline.
To some observers, Costello seems to be inviting them to see his point of view, while others may feel he is less confident in what he is saying. Because of his well thought out, detail-oriented responses, I suspect that the majority audience sees his characteristic raised eyebrows as an invitation.
Adrian Garcia’s appeal is tied to his warmth. He smiles a lot, at himself, at other candidates, and at the audience. His gestures are rarely aggressive, though when it comes time to make hard hitting points, particularly at events where he is standing, his gestures and vocal cadence are reminiscent of Barack Obama.
Stay tuned for more observations as November 3rd draws closer.