Politicians and the Perfect Hand Positioning
The hands are so important in emphasizing a person's point (or betraying a lie), professional speakers are trained to use very limited hand gestures. The next time you see a politician in action, for example, watch his or her hands. You'll note that the more powerful the politician, the more controlled his hand movements are.
Politicians love their rehearsed hand gestures. JFK and Bill Clinton, for example, were famous for using a loosely closed fist with a thumb sticking out of the top to get their points across without appearing aggressive. George W. Bush, meanwhile, often places both hands on the podium when he speaks — a way of saying, “I have nothing to hide.”
The Hand Complication
You might be wondering why politicians bother learning hand gestures. If they're so afraid that their hands are going to give away their deep, dark secrets, why don't they just stick them in their pockets? Seems like an easy solution to a complicated matter, but don't go into the field of political consulting just yet. Hiding the hands is as good as saying, “You won't believe the secret I have!” Obviously, this isn't a wise move in a field already polluted with closeted skeletons. A politician always wants to appear as though he's telling the truth, the whole truth, or something a lot like the truth.
Since politicians generally want to give the impression that they're being as open and honest as possible, they usually don't cross their arms or legs while they speak. Although these postures may be folksy and comfortable, they may also be interpreted as an attempt by the politician to hide information and/or protect himself.
The Truth at Hand
Politicians keep their hands on display in order to look honest and trustworthy, so they have to be very careful about the gestures they use. As discussed earlier in this chapter, the hands can say an awful lot — they can actually contradict the words coming out of the speaker's mouth. Picture a leader pleading for peace while emphasizing his words with a closed fist. (The unspoken message: “I'll achieve peace — one war at a time.”)
One reason speakers train themselves to use several neutral hand movements is so they appear honest and forthright even if they're fudging the truth. Using the correct hand gestures can allow a speaker to lull the public into a state of trust and comfort. What types of gestures do politicians favor?
Palms-down motions. As you read earlier in this chapter, palms-down is a move of domination. In this case, the speaker is telling you that he's in control of the situation.
“Patting” gestures. This is a palms-down move where the speaker gently pats the air in front of him. It's generally interpreted as kind of a soothing move, as though the speaker is reaching out to touch you personally and tell you that everything is going to be all right.
Palm raising. Simply raising the hand with the fingers extended and close together is a neutral gesture that once again conveys the message that the speaker is calm, cool, collected, and ready to handle the situation.
What kinds of gestures do politicians try to avoid? For starters, fists. In this day and age, no one wants to follow someone who's out for blood. People want to see that their leader has gathered his thoughts, is in control of his emotions, and has come up with a solid plan of action. Pounding a fist on a podium generally means that this person is ready to rumble, but may not have considered all possible outcomes.
Although politicians do use palms-up gestures, they do so sparingly. In every other sector this is considered to be a bridge-building move (and you'd think that politicians would love to be known as peacemakers), but it's also perceived as a gesture of relative weakness, as though the speaker is begging you to believe him. You might see a politician use this type of motion when he's trying to explain a difficult concept … or when he's apologizing for his latest scandal.