2019 Australian Federal Election Debate: Body Language Analysis

I worked with The West Australian yesterday, to give my analysis of Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten’s nonverbal communication, during the live election debate. As you know, I like to be thorough in my analysis, spotting split-second microexpressions and scrutinising every move. The problem is, I couldn’t rewind the live debate to confirm what I’d seen, so I had to get comfortable with giving an overview, instead of a detailed analysis. Especially knowing we (Lee and I) had minimal time after the debate to convey our findings to Bethany Hiatt, the journalist, who had just one hour before it went to print.

Body Language Analysis, Australian Federal Election Debate, Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten

You can read the article on page five of The West Australian newspaper, or here on their website:

Federal Election 2019: Body language experts declare PM Scott Morrison more powerful in Leaders’ Debate


Their title is a little ambiguous, with a declaration of Morrison being more powerful, but the first paragraph clarifies with the keywords ‘body language’–Morrison indeed came across as being more powerful in his opening and closing statements. I have to admit; I was surprised Morrison came across much better than he usually does, he’d prepared well.

One key thing to note is that they were both feeling the pressure. At times, especially at the start, they both displayed the following stress indicators: high blink rate, blocking behaviours, interlocked fingers, self-soothing behaviours (rubbing hands). And, I’ve never seen so many eyelid flutters in such a short timeframe. While it’s natural that they would be feeling the pressure, we expect our country leaders to be able to handle a high level of stress, so it doesn’t make us feel comfortable when we see these behaviours. Most of those behaviours could have been concealed.

What was most interesting was their use of hand gestures. Shorten’s hands came to life (sort of) during the debate/questions, but were still in his opening and closing statements, while it was the opposite with Morrison. 

Generally speaking, Shorten came across better during the debate questions, but Morrison come across better during the opening and closing statements.

I suspect Shorten has had media training in which he’s been told to keep his hands still, which unfortunately results in those jerky movements he makes. His hands want to be unleashed so much so that he can’t contain his movements. This comes across badly as it looks fidgety and can be associated with nervousness. If he just let his hands express, he’d come across so much better and would reap all the benefits that come with expressive hands. We would feel he was more honest and open, we’d be able to interpret and recall his message more easily, and (the best bit) his cognitive load would feel lighter and he’d be better able to articulate his message.

I’ll leave you to read the article–and practice your hand gestures–while I scoot off and spend time with Lee’s parents, who are visiting us from the UK.