Monday, October 20, 2008

Secrets of Body Language Summary

The History Channel had a special on the Secrets of Body Language and I found the show super interesting. It could almost be a school lecture in itself!(if you missed it they are replaying it quite a bit I think) Anyways, I just thought I'd take some notes here on what I think the most interesting parts were (well notes as in, going back through it, pausing, and trying to type out what they say in the most interesting parts of the show).

The explanation of the show states "Experts report that 93 percent of all communication is through gesture, facial expression and body movement, not words."

Body language says it all if you look beyond the words.
"When you can read body language...every moment you spend with others you can make it valuable and if you're in business profitable." I would say it's crucial for animators to read body language so we can put our observations from real life into our animation and make the characters really come to life!

They described a video clip, of Vladimir Putin and President Bush,as a striding contest between two powerful world leaders. The faster you stride..the more powerful and fit you are. (I tried to look on youtube for the exact clip, but can't find it)
It's not just the speed of walking that sends out messages. Vladimir has an animal power, a strong man power. He walks by having his shoulders bounce back and forth and he makes gestures and is very active (described as a sexy walk). Bush on the other hand has a traditional American power. There is very little movement above the shoulders, he's trying to look controlled, there is no extra wasted energy.

The next clip shows 3 world leaders trying to go through a door. There is great meaning behind who goes through the door first. In the west it doesn't really matter, it's polite maybe... but in the Middle East it has significant cultural impact. The host, power person, says I'm in control I'll help you through the door and show you the way. The last man through the door is the winner.

Even when friends and allies meet subtle cues reveal who's top dog. (George Bush and Tony Blair are the example here). Tony Blair should be in charge and the boss, but he accepts the seniority in place here is Bush. So the president is in charge of the choreography and goes through the door last, even putting his hand on Tony Blair's back to help him through. He then gives him three little taps on the back. A tap on the back is one way to demonstrate power, getting the upper hand is another.

(picture from
When world leaders get together they know there is one sure way to show power and that's in the hand shake. They always want to be on the left of the picture so that they can be on the top of the hand shake. The visual impact of important hand shakes was first appreciated in 1970 when Elvis Presley famously visited Nixon at the white house. Nixon has the upper hand. They then had a clip of Putin greeting other world leaders, where he was positioned to be on the left of all the photos. When George Bush comes in he realizes he's on the wrong side and immediately crowds Putin, so Putin's left arm is in no position to grab hold of Bush's right arm. As soon as Bush turns out he immediately goes to tap Putin's back, to actually give him a push, but not to be out done Putin puts his right arm out and gives Bush a tap as well.

(left to right, Winston Churchill, FDR, Joseph Stalin)
Even seated the bodies of world leaders can speak volumes. February 1945, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, and Winston Churchill famously met at the Yalta Conference. The allies had worked together for 3 years, but with the end of the war insight that was all about to change. We see three men wanting to dominate. Visually Roosevelt was in the center and the center figure always appears to be the most important. Even when Roosevelt is talking to Stalin he turns the opposite way and Stalin leans in and follows FDR, Roosevelt is the real leader of the two. Churchill's body language is conveying Britain's diminishing status. He doesn't look like a fully engaged participant, he has both of his elbows out. You can see how each of these men, each a master in their own country, interact with each other on the world stage.

A politician's body language can easily give him away, especially when he's under pressure. November 13, 1973 Watergate is at its height and Nixon holds a live televised question and answer session. His body language says it all.... (I couldn't find a very good clip online..the show had a much better one where you could see his hands behind his back and how he really was leaning on the podium). He has his hands behind the back that gives the indication that he has nothing to hide, open front. However, he is holding his wrist and rubbing his arm, which is called the self-touch gesture. His words are combative but his body language betrays anxiety. He's holding himself away from the podium like he's going to be attacked, he's trying to defend himself from searching questions. After he says "I'm not a crook" he immediately goes into retreat. When somebody makes a definitive statement and immediately retreats we know they didn't tell the truth, they're escaping that lie. Then he crosses his arms right away to protect himself. He displays tellingly defensive body language throughout the speech.

Reading body language you look at what is normal for that situation and what is normal for that particular person. That way you have a "norm." If someone's body language departs from the norm it can often be a sign that all is not well.

My favorite part of the show was when they talked about President Bush's body language! I don't know why but it really reminded me of talking to Carlos and how they animated Skinner in Ratatouille. Carlos said that they animated Skinner with the attitude of a 5 year old I think (or something along those lines).. and he would pout. Anyways.... it's not the same because Bush doesn't act like a little kid when he gets angry.. it just reminded me of that conversation for some reason.

One world leader has a unique way of using body language to slide through any situation no matter how embarrassing, George W. Bush. The thing with Bush.. no matter if he says something wrong or makes a mistake, he gets like a kid. He becomes this little six year old kid, like "oh, I made a mistake." It's this playful likable trait that if you saw your 5 yr old kid you'd want to pinch his little cheeks..but it's the president.

This is a classic example of George Bush getting lost in what he's saying. He pauses a long time and knows the next word is "shame on you," but he also knows he's completely lost the next sentence. Then he comes up and misquotes the next part. There is a long pause where he is evaluating whether he's made a complete fool of himself, but then carries on regardless.

Image is everything!

Politicians realized body language was powerful in 1960 where John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon debated in the first televised debate. Nixon looks far less assured in front of the cameras than Kennedy. Nixon had only just come out of the hospital from an injured knee and he refused makeup for the camera. He also sweat under the lights, he compared unfavorably with the tan and fit looking Kennedy. In the polls after that debate, Nixon to the radio audience that only heard him, won by a landslide..but the poll of the audience that saw the debate, Kennedy won by a landslide.
Many politicians employ coaches to shape their image.
These clips about body language in politics on youtube (these aren't from the show, but I just ran across them on youtube trying to find clips and thought I'd include them)

Coaching give aways, are when the gestures don't feel natural, when the beat is off slightly... when I'm thinking and then I'm showing. When you coach a politician you have to create an illusion that they're loved by many... so to do this you pretend there are people out there that you know personally, people you are thrilled to see. They point to the audience and say "hey thanks for coming." Then when you watch it on tv you think "wow, she knows so many people."

Every good speaker expresses from the heart. Bill Clinton expresses from the heart, he gestures on the beat. In telling whether somebody is authentic you want to see if they're gesturing just a second before they say it.
You feel it, you show it, and then you say it.
The real mark of a body language master though is how they deal with a difficult situation. They show a clip of Bill Clinton where he gets a question he's not happy with and he does this little thing with his mouth where you can tell he's unhappy..but then he quickly gains his composure and answers it.

Ok, well I need a break... so I'll post this for now..and maybe later I'll finish going through the show, lol. :)

Edit--- So I ran across a few quick clips of the show on Youtube. Here it is if anybody is interested:

Actually.. it looks like the whole show is up.. it's just broken up into lots of little segments. Travel over to this youtube user if you want to view the whole thing. :)


josh said...

Wow you spent some time putting this together. thanks!!

anuraj said...

really thanx teresa for this cool shearing .......

Dhar said...

Thanks for sharing these golden nuggets, Teresa. I think I will look for a DVD of that show to keep for myself.

@b said...

hey teresa, super informative stuff...thanks a ton for taking the pains and sharing it here...eagerly waiting for the continuing part whenever u re-energize yourself.. :-)


Drkaushik Gowda said...

Thanks for the summary helped me a lot

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