Since the days of Martin Luther King Jr., the world was yet to experience the magic power of speech. Few celebrities and politician had given a moving speech that could send the crowd into frenzy. This was until the run off to the US presidential elections of 2008 where another orator came up.
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This was Barrack Obama. Not only did his words posses power but also his tone and general body language helped him establish himself as one of the most outstanding speakers that the world has ever known. Having been interested in this great orator, I decided to understand what made him tick where I failed.
Furthermore, I tried to see whether there were any strength that I possessed that Obama could have lacked. This essay has, as a principle aim, the task of comparing the body language exhibited by Barrack Obama and those I exhibit.
I have always believed that I am good at languages. My mastery of the English language is undoubtedly exemplary. I could say that writing a speech that is grammatically and syntactically correct as Obama’s is an easy task but then where does the difference between Obama and I crop from? Howtoguides (par. 4) outlines how the different components of speech contribute to the ultimate interpretation and understanding of the message.
Contrary to what is popularly believed, the words we speak contribute to a mere 7% of the total communication process. This means that the rest of the percentage is dedicated to body language which includes gestures, facial expressions, body posture, tone, etc
The most outstanding part of any communication is therefore body language which accounts for as much as 93% of the communication process. My low score in public appeal during speeches could be attributed to this. When speaking to a crowd, I rarely more an inch from the microphone stand. I always remain rooted to the spot and deliver my speech.
This is contrary to Barrack obama’s position when it comes to speech giving. He paces around therefore attracting and retaining attention of the listeners (howtoguides par 5). In most of his speeches, Obama can be spotted pacing around and saying “this is the time,” or “as I stand before you.” When using these words and pacing around, the proximity between the people speaking and the listeners are completely reduced.
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Subconsciously, the listener feels that the speaker is standing right before him even when the speech is being heard from a TV. In addition, Obama can be seen as a person who walks briskly with an erect body stature. This combined with his strong, lean and athletic body gives him an aura of confidence. This is one thing that a listener looks for in his speaker.
When speaking, I sometimes use my hands to drive in points through gesticulation. I do this through waving of the hand, relaxing my palm to pose with an open hand. This brings out to the audience a feeling that I am being sincere, open and innocent. In some occasions, especially when meeting a person of authority, I tend to interlock my fingers.
This usually sends a message of a tensed person to my audience. Of all my habits, chewing of my finger nails has been my worst. I always chew my finger nails every time I feel a sense of nervousness or insecurity.
On his part, Obama is a good user of gestures. He uses his hands in many occasions to emphasize on a point. Thompson (pg. 25) in his research on obama’s use of Hypnosis techniques points out that one of the strongest speech delivery techniques of Obama is his use of the forefinger and thump to emphasize on a message.
As Thompson puts it, Obama uses his forefinger and thumb, “…essentially uniquely, differently than all other speakers.” (Thompson pg. 25) the use of forefinger pressed together with the thumb is gesture that helps to portray emphasis. He seems to use the gesture at specific points especially when using words like, “Believe,” or “choose”.
Apart from pressing the forefinger and thumb together, Obama also uses his fore finger to point to the audience and sometimes uses his two fingers to stress a point. By doing this, he simply strengthens his connection with the audience.
Obama’s main issue during campaign was to stop what he termed as the Bush administration which was driving the American economy into tatters and revive an American dream. The only way he could do this was through showing the audience that he was ready for work.
Through body language Obama was able to portray an image of “ready for work.” Through appearing before audiences with his shirt sleeves pulled up. He did not have to say that it was time to start reconstructing America but his dressing was enough to portray all this.
During most of the one on one interviews, the body language of Obama shouted loud through the way he sat and the way he positioned his hands and feet. In most of these events, Obama avoided certain body postures that could make the audiences which were watching him on TV read more than what he said. He always made sure that he sat with his legs apart portraying a feeling of openness and relaxed nature (howtoguides par. 5).
He avoided some situations of sitting with legs crossed or one foot kicking slightly. This could send a message of boredom that would equally translate to the audience therefore losing their attention. His hands were not only open and emphasizing through gesticulation but also they avoided touching or gently rubbing on the nose because this could send a message of lying or doubt.
Obama has had one trend that he exhibited during interviews that he never did during his speeches. Notably, he has been tilting his head to his right, an activity that most critics said he did deliberately. According to Thompson (pg. 51), Obama had his head tilted towards the right during his interview at Fox News with Chris Wallace on April 27, 2008, his interview with the ABC Nightline, his meeting with Rev.
Rick Warren on August 16, 2008, etc. this is a form of body language, either intentional or unintentional, that is meant to unarm your opponent. According to Thompson, tilting the head to the right usually exposes the jugular vein which is the weak point of any animal. (This is based on the animal instinct of humans). Doing this is like submitting to your opponent.
Consequently, he is likely to lower his guard as he expects less attack from you. Therefore, the stance, according to the critics, was meant to make the audience judge Obama sympathetically. This is also a body language that contributed to obama’s acceptance to many people.
Another very important body language is the use of facial expression. Many features in our face can be really important during communication. Almost every form of emotional information during communication can be transmitted through the eyes. These include anger, happiness, doubt, enthusiasm, energy, boredom etc. these emotions play an important role in the way the message is delivered to the listener (Windle & Warren).
I am a person who cannot fail to express my internal feelings through the face. In all my communications, I would be spotted with my eyes burning bright showing desire, sometimes I would be spotted with eyes dull and wondering around the room expressing disinterest and boredom.
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Consequently, this will lead to the same behavior to my audience. Unlike me, Obama has mastered the art of engaging with the audience. At no point will he be spotted with his eyes wandering around aimlessly.
He keeps his eyes focused to his audience and bright despite his busy schedule. Maintaining bright and sharp eyes sustains the audience’s concentration and thus sustaining the conversation.
Finally, one person gave a beautiful quote. He said, “Smile at the world and it will smile back at you.” Obama has successfully managed to make the world smile back at him with his ever apart lips. Popularly, parted lips show that someone is happy.
Lips that are wide open signify that the person is very happy. Obama has had people smiling widely in most of his campaign tours. he has infected people with happiness when he himself maintained a happy nature.
In some occasions, he had to maintain closed lips which portrayed a concerned nature. This was mostly when he was dealing with questions that need concentration and utmost insight.
In conclusion, the role of body language in message transmission is quite indispensable in day to day activities. Simple activities like the position of the arms or shoulders, the tilt of the head, movements on the podium, finger pointing, dullness or luster in the eyes etc. can be extremely important in the whole process of communication.
This is the greatest reason why Obama has come out as an extra ordinary orator compared to me. To match him, I will be forced to ensure that I put more effort in the improvement of my body language which controls more than 90% of the total process of communication.
HowtoGuides. “Confident Body Language.”, 2009.
Thompson, Fred. “An Examination of Obama’s Use of Hidden Hypnosis Techniques in His Speeches.” Penny Press. 2008.
Windle, Rod and Warren Suzanne. “Communication Skills.” Direction service.