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Body language the Key to John's success

11 September 2014

Body language is usually the deciding factor in leader’s debates, and last night’s was no exception.

Both David Cunliffe and John Key were very much ‘on message’. In that sense, you could call the debate a draw. Cunliffe’s big message was the need for fairness, while Key’s focus was on his government’s economic record and the importance that its policies continue.

However, where Key was dominant was in the area of body language. As we emphasise to our media training clients, this is probably more important that the message. While I’m not totally convinced, many people quote research done in the 1970s that says of what people remember from live interviews, 55% is body language, 38% is tone of voice, and only 7% are the words.

Whether that’s true or not, it shows that body language and tone of voice are vitally important. This is why Key is so popular. He comes across as totally natural, trustworthy and friendly. He was not his usual self in the first debate, but since then he has been back to normal.

Cunliffe has done well with his messages. He knows what to say and communicates his points very well. His problem has been with his body language. He has done OK, but he doesn’t come across as well as Key. He is a good debater, but at times he overdoes his gesturing and tone of voice. It’s like he is giving a sermon. This appeared again last night when talking about poverty. He was obviously trying to play on people’s emotions, but it didn’t look natural. It was over the top.

Whether consciously or subconsciously, people pick up on this and they don’t warm to him like they do with Key. I still say Cunliffe has done well with these debates and has footed it equally when it comes to what he says. But he can’t compete with Key in the vital area of body language.

For more on my media training or crisis communication training, contact pete@mediatrainingnz.co.nz.

Filed under Media Training

Written by

Pete is a leading New Zealand media trainer and regular blogger for his company, Media Training NZ . He has helped leaders from all sectors of society communicate with the media and other stakeholders. Pete is a former daily newspaper reporter and press secretary in the New Zealand government. From these roles, he understands the media process from both sides of the camera.

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