Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne uses a finger-thumb “pinch” technique when she wants to make a point emphatically.
Andrea Horwath scans the room when she’s speaking.
And despite observations from some quarters that Tim Hudak has a painted on smile, he’s capable of putting on one that is genuine.
Body language experts say these are the physical gestures to look for when the three party leaders are speaking in public.
To those watching them, the leaders’ movements can signal happiness, confidence, agitation, even a lack of sincerity, says Diane Craig, president and founder of Corporate Class Inc., and Mark Bowden, who created the company Truthplane, a communication training company.
Both operations are based in Toronto.
In separate interviews, the Star asked Craig and Bowden to view video clips of the three leaders’ body language and give us their observations about what it all means.
During a speech to a recent audience in which he touted his one million jobs proposal, PC Leader Tim Hudak holds his arms wide apart at stomach level and launches into a smile as he says, “Our economy is in a mess. But we can fix it.”
Though Hudak’s critics may not agree, the smile is real, says Bowden.
Bowden says it’s a classic Duchenne smile, named after French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne who studied the physiology of facial expressions in the nineteenth century.
“That’s a genuine smile,” Bowden says referring to the Hudak clip.
“Most people don’t put it on long enough. It has to be sustained, really, for about two and a half seconds or more for people to recognize it as a true smile.” Bowden says.
“You can see the wrinkles at the sides of his eyes. That’s really the indicator of an honest feeling of ‘this is good.’ That’s what he’s actually feeling,” Bowden says.
“It’s not a fake smile,” agrees Craig, whose company offers a variety of services including business and workplace etiquette and image consulting.
Craig says the way Hudak holds his hands far apart is a signal that he’s trying to tell his audience “trust me, I’m being open with you.”
Bowden says using open-handed gestures at exactly belly height reveals to others that everything is going to be OK and signals “friend.” It’s seen as indicating calm and assertiveness.
Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne uses the finger-thumb pinch and other hand techniques — such as a karate chop-like motion — in a staccato way to emphasize a lot of her words and syllables, the body language experts note.
That was on display in a video taken the day Wynne dissolved the legislature to usher in the June 12 provincial election. During her press conference at Queen’s Park that day, Wynne used the chop and the pinch when she talked about her government having a plan to help young people find that “all-important first job.”
Craig says the hand techniques are intended to exude authority, but Bowden says the pinch gesture indicates that one is making a point that is delicate, and needs to be understood by the audience.
“The more someone uses their fingers, the more it provokes other people to feel like they are (conveying) something delicate and intelligent,” says Bowden. However, he adds the technique should be used carefully because it can also come across as “teacher-ish.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath’s personal approval numbers have been good — a recent Forum Research poll saw her approval numbers at 35 per cent, just slightly behind the 38 per cent for Wynne and ahead of the 23 per cent for Hudak — but Horwath tends to exhibit a mannerism that our body language experts aren’t fond of.
The head scan.
Horwath does it a lot, for example in a video clip when she spoke to reporters after deciding not to support the Liberals’ budget, which toppled the government and triggered next month’s vote.
She can be seen scanning the room with her head and eyes.
“She doesn’t stop anywhere to make eye contact with anyone in particular . . . she’s not engaging with anyone,” Craig says.
Adds Bowden: “We need to see the eyes be still enough, for long enough to say, “Oh, I get it. She’s talking to that person’ . . . you need to sustain eye contact for a good two and a half to three seconds.”
READING THE LEADERS
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak
Perma smile. Open arms.
He’s capable of a genuine smile, say body language experts. He can put on a Duchenne smile, named after a 19th century French doctor who studied human facial expressions. His open arms indicate “trust me, everything is OK.”
Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne
The hand says it all. Let me point the way.
She uses her fingers to make emphatic points, and often uses her hands to punctuate every word, say our experts. One of the specialists says Wynne should use the technique with caution — it might come across as “teacher-ish.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath
Stiff smile. She scans.
Our experts say her smile can tend to look a bit stiff at times. And she often scans a room with her eyes and head when speaking to a crowd. This latter approach is not very effective our experts say. Leaders need to choose faces in the crowd to focus and hold their gaze on for a few seconds.