There may be more truth to the old saying, “it’s not what you say but how you say it. ” On average, 93 percent of meaning found in communication comes from nonverbal messages (Mehrabian 1967).
nonverbal communication is the wordless transmission of information through body language, gestures, tone, space and appearance. The first televised presidential debate is a pivotal example of how pervasive nonverbal communication actually is to an audience, and how it affects the credibility of the speaker(s).
The purpose of this analysis is to present both the categories and functions of nonverbal communication within the context of the 1960 debates between presidential candidates, Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice-president Richard M. Nixon. Before the first debate, Kennedy was generally thought of as the young inexperienced underdog taking on the two termed vice president but by the end of the night, he was the winner. During the first debate both candidates spoke on domestic issues but history has proved less concerned about the farmer subsidies discussed than with the speakers’ physical appearance.
Kennedy was able to hold his own against Nixon’s rebuttals which launched him into an equal perception with viewers. However, what really propelled Kennedy as the winner was the way he presented himself as compared to how Nixon was presented. Perceptions of physical attractiveness initially have the greatest impact. We tend to want to interact with others we consider more attractive than not. That first debate was the clear turning point for Kennedy’s campaign and some would even argue it won him the presidency.
A. Family and Educational Background John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born of May 29, 1917 and was the second son of nine children of Joseph Patrick Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. The ancestors before him were of Wexford County in Ireland. John F. Kennedy's father served as first chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and a US ambassador to Great Britain during Franklin D. Roosevelt's ...
“It’s one of those unusual points on the timeline of history where you can say things changed very dramtically. ” (Schroeder 2000) Apparently, while Nixon was campaigning earlier that summer, he injured his knee and it became infected, requiring surgery just two weeks before that fateful September night. This left Nixon pale and underweight, as noticeable by the suit obviously too large for him. To make matters worse, he also refused to wear makeup as he was getting ready to go on set. Nixon did agree to use a drugstore pancake makeup in an attempt to hide his fast growing stubble.
This actually backfired as the hot lights in the CBS studio caused Nixon to sweat and melted the powder right off his face. As opposed to Kennedy, that had just returned from campaigning in sunny California, who appeared tanned and rested. The wardrobe chosen for the debate also seemed to work against Nixon. He chose a gray suit that made him fade into the background on set. Whereas Kennedy’s darker suit made him stand out against the background and in viewer’s minds. Posture also helped shaped credibility in the audience’s mind.
According to research linking body movements to leadership, those who lean forward, maintain eye contact, smile and assume a relaxed posture are more likely to emerge as leaders and be considered more attractive (Ketrow).
Kennedy seemed to stand up straighter and remain poised better than Nixon. Nixon’s still tender knee caused him to bend a bit and appear slouched. Even Nixon himself admitted in his book Six Crises, “I believe I spent too much time in the last campaign on substance and too little time on appearance, I paid too much attention to what I was going to say and too little to how I would look.
I should have remembered that a picture is worth a thousand words. ” Nixon also failed at one of the most important aspects of public speaking, eye contact. During the course of the debate Kennedy spoke directly into the camera as he answered questions. Nixon on the other hand, looked off camera and made eye contact with the four news correspondents instead of engaging his real audience, the American people watching at home. This was negatively perceived by those watching as Nixon shifting his gaze to avoid eye contact. Kennedy seemed a natural to the new medium of television whereas Nixon prepared much the same way he would for a radio show.
Kelly MillerTitleNonverbal expressions of emotions are not consciously controlled, lending them to being more basal and honest. "It is difficult to bring nonverbal behavior under conscious control. [... ] The behavior is automatic, an unconscious reflex." (Be rko et al 100) Researchers from Darwin to Leathers have studied the universality outward display of emotions and how they can be non ...