Hollywood handlers have always innately understood what researchers have fairly recently discovered; and that is that non-verbal cues generally trump verbal communication.
A presidential debate provides a textbook illustration of this principle.
Discussions following the first 2012 presidential debate tended to center on the subject of President Obama’s body language. Apparently oblivious during the debate to the numerous split-screen images that were being broadcast, Obama avoided eye contact with presidential contender Mitt Romney, and instead looked down at the podium as if to review notes.
Much of the time he had a dour expression on his face, lacked enthusiasm, and maintained a rather guarded posture. When he did smile, which happened at strikingly inopportune moments, more often than not Obama left people with the impression that the smile was a nervous one, forced and inauthentic.
The overall image that the president projected ended up being a disastrous one, and nowhere was it more readily recognizable than in Hollywood.
After all, if there is one place where stagecraft is second nature, it is Tinseltown. The best in the business have always resided there, and watching Obama’s debate performance was simply quite painful for many.
Obama supporters in the entertainment industry anonymously told The Hollywood Reporter that the president should expect to receive some expert advice when he next visited Tinseltown.
Fairly obvious to those who watched debate two, Obama had indeed prepared differently the second time around.
Forbes contributor Giovanni Rodriguez observed some of the stagecraft that was used in the portion of the second debate that dealt with the attack in Benghazi, Libya.
“Obama came downstage and turned his body to his opponent [Romney] — who was way upstage — and scolded him . . . The bold diagonal line across the stage worked the way it is intended to work in small theater — making great use of the space to arrest the moment — and the effect was devastating,” Rodriguez wrote.
The president may have taken a cue from his most prominent spokesperson on the campaign trail, former President Bill Clinton. Clinton’s debate-prep coordinator Tom Donilon is now a national security adviser to Obama and interestingly has been one of the key players assisting the president in his debate preparation.
Married to Catherine M. Russell, who is chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, Jill, Donilon is a deeply entrenched Democrat. His brother is Mike Donilon, counselor to the vice president.
Donilon coordinated Clinton’s approach to debate preparation, which involved a combination of sparring and stagecraft and utilized the skills of Hollywood television professional Harry Thomason as well as those of Michael Sheehan, a former theater director and one of the most savvy media trainers in the business.
Donilon and the Clinton team have the ability and experience to provide preparation for the final debate, one in which Obama is walking a tightrope in terms of the image that he projects particularly to the all-important independent voters.
Once considered to be unassailable, the president’s likability quotient has slipped to the point where his favorable and unfavorable ratings are comparable to those of his challenger. Undecided voters are uneasy with the discordant nature of today’s politics and prefer to see candidates comport themselves in a dignified manner.
Obama cannot afford to appear sophomoric or rude. At the same time, the president needs to avoid the perception that was created in the first debate in which he appeared indifferent and detached from the viewing audience.
It remains to be seen whether or not the risks will be properly calibrated and if the names of Hollywood advisers will surface.
James Hirsen, J.D., M.A., in media psychology, is a New York Times best-selling author, media analyst, and law professor. Visit Newsmax.TV Hollywood. Read more reports from James Hirsen — Click Here Now.
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