Body language and the federal leaders’ debate: What to watch out for

With two weeks before Canadians head to the polls, the six main federal party leaders are set to face off in an English-language debate for the first time on Monday evening.

And while there will be plenty of scrutiny of what the leaders say, body language interpreter Robyn T. Braley says the candidates will also be sending messages on stage in other ways.
“When we talk TV debates, we are talking political theatre, we’re talking reality TV.
“Not to be overly dramatic, but political success or failure can be determined by the debate,” Braley, a brand specialist at Unimark Creative, told The Roy Green Show Sunday.“So the communication that is happening, the messages that are sent, are everything that people see, that they hear and that they watch the leaders doing,” he said.
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Asked what viewers should be on the look out for, Braley had a list of body-language tells.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about the 2019 federal leaders’ debates

“Are they able to be on their game for the entire two hours? Do they shift from foot to foot?” Braley asked. “Do they look fidgety when they don’t think that they’re on camera? Do they look into the camera when they’re speaking to you, the viewer?”

Click to play video: 'Strategic advice to party leaders ahead of the final two debates'
Strategic advice to party leaders ahead of the final two debates

He also offered some insight into the body language of five of the six leaders who will be taking the stage. (He didn’t comment on Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet).

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Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, Braley said, has a habit of tilting her head upward when she speaks.

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“That causes you to think that she is entitled or looking down on you and she knows better than you about what she’s talking about,” he said.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau‘s smile was an asset, he said, but with the scandals that have played out in the last year, it can come across as disingenuous.

“It can make him look entitled, aloof,” he said.

As for Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, his biggest challenge is “to not look like a stick.” He should slow down his speech, Braley offered. Scheer also has a “bad tendency” to start answers to questions with the phrase “As I said before,” he said.

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Click to play video: 'Crack the code on body language'
Crack the code on body language

“He may have just done 10 interviews where he was asked the same question (and) gave the same answer, but the viewer is seeing this for the first time.”

Jagmeet Singh, who is competing in his first general election as NDP leader, has won Braley’s praises so far — “his challenge is just to keep doing what he’s doing.”

“His facial expressions, eye contact always make it look like he’s being respectful and engaged and really hearing what is being said,” Braley added.

People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier needs to be able to project something more than just being “surprised and happy that he’s actually there,” Braley said. Bernier, whose party has proposed slashing immigration levels and ending “official” multiculturalism, was a controversial late addition to the debate roster.

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The former Conservative cabinet minister broke off from the Tories in 2018 and later formed the People’s Party of Canada.​

“He has to look confident,” Braley said. “He has to look sure of himself because he’s talking about some new ideas, some ideas that not everyone agrees with, and so he has to come across as showing trust and credibility.”

Below: A real-time tally of the total usage of the official #CanadaDebates2019 hashtag

The English-language federal leaders’ debate takes place 7-9 p.m. ET on Oct. 7. Scheer, Singh, May, Bernier, Trudeau and Blanchet will be participating. Watch on Global TV (find your channel here), or watch on,  FacebookYouTube or Twitter.

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