I was watching President Bush late last week on a news (press) conference, speaking about Rumsfeld, the Iraqi war and other related subjects, when it dawned on me why his poll numbers have been dropping this year. It's "the twitch." Just as he approached the podium, put his papers down and started to speak, Bush quickly cocked his head to the side and back. It was only an instant but to a speech (or media) coach, it says volumes. The subconscious message, along with some other slightly off-key mannerisms, is that George Bush isn't in complete command--or something is off track. By comparison, think of Colin Powell or Ronald Reagan--steady as a rock, no fidgeting or rocking.
We all have our little quirks that subtract from our presence. If you doubt it, tape your next presentation. Watch for the little things--the strange gesture, the odd grimace, etc. Of course, TV exaggerates everything. The little grin becomes a smirk, the quick look away makes it look like you're darting your eyes, suspiciously. Sometimes people on camera will actually nod their heads when a news person is attacking them. They're doing this to show they're listening, but it appears they're agreeing with the attack: "Yes, I did cook the books."
The Bush thing is perplexing to me. I met him many years ago when I was writing a story on a Texas financier, Richard Rainwater. Bush was in Rainwaters' Fort Worth office, and we spoke briefly. He came across gregariously, and amicably, a friendly fellow with a quick laugh. But his appearances since becoming president seem anything but natural. The smirks, strange facial twitches and other odd mannerisms detract from his message.
The one exception was during one of the debates with Kerry, where they spoke in front of a live audience. Bush had been beat like a drum the last debate, but this time, he came out swinging. His messages and lines may have been memorized, but he seemed more at ease, more natural in his delivery, connecting with audience the way he should. He cracked some jokes, and spoke directly and simply--no funny gestures or expressions. I had the feeling that he put all the coaching and personal handlers aside, and just delivered from gut instinct. It's too bad we couldn't see more of the "real George," or any politician for that matter.