Kennedy Nixon Debate Paper essay


KennedyNixon Debate Paper

Theuse of nonverbal persuasion in communication has significant impactson the effectiveness and credibility of a speaker. Televisedpresidential debates in the US started in 1960 with the Kennedy-Nixondebate. Kennedy’s effective use of nonverbal cues and body languageduring the debate portray the significance of the communicationstrategies towards convincing the audience about a given topic ofdiscussion. On the other hand, Nixon perspired visibly during thedebate thereby revealing signs of nervousness. Many people argue thatthe lack of confidence exhibited by Nixon during the debate was themajor reason for Kennedy’s narrow victory in the race for theAmerican presidential seat. The essay focuses on the contribution ofnonverbal persuasion on the credibility and effectiveness of aspeaker.

Itis evident that an individual that listens to an audio version of thedebate will have a different judgment from that of the individualthat watches the video version. From the audio version, theindividual will concentrate on the content of the informationdelivered by both candidates. By so doing, the individual may givecredit to Nixon rather than Kennedy (Higdon, 2008). However, when theperson views the televised debate, the notable differences in thevisual presentations and expressions of the candidates reveal thatKennedy was more confident during the debate than Nixon. The words ofthe CBS president, Frank Stanton, at the time of the debate provide adirect reflection of the physical appearances of both candidates.According to Frank, Nixon appeared like death whereas Kennedy wasconfident in the debate.

Thisexplains the reason why television viewers of the debate thought thatKennedy won whereas radio listeners opined that Nixon was the winner.Listening to the debate reveals that Nixon was better than Kennedy onaddressing the issues raised in the debate. The superior imagepresented by Kennedy during the debate was responsible for hisability to win the presidential elections by a narrow margin. Thedisparity in the opinion held by the radio listeners and thetelevision viewers emanate from the fact that speakers that useeffective nonverbal cues and physical expressions have a greaterchance of emerging the victors. It is evident that Nixon’sinability to perform tremendously on physical expressions andnonverbal communication was responsible for the conclusion of themajority that Kennedy was the victor.

Areview of Nixon’s physical appearance reveals that on the day ofthe debate, he put on a grey suit that achieved a perfect blendingwith the background. Nixon also exhibited a five o’clock shadowbesides appearing to sweat throughout the greater part of the debate.This is contrary to viewer expectations since television viewerscould not vote in a president that lacked confidence even thoughshe/he could address the issues presented in the debate. Apart fromphysical appearance, there are other questionable nonverbal cues thatwere responsible for Nixon’s failure. For instance, Nixon appearedto sit with a narrow and tense posture thereby revealing elements ofreduced confidence. On the other hand, his opponent, Kennedy appearsto sit with a wide and relaxed posture evidenced by a centeredweight, crossed legs and hands that rested easily (1960Kennedy-Nixon Debate (Part II), 1960).

Onepositive aspect about Nixon’s nonverbal cues was the emphatic andclear head movements. However, Nixon held a tight grip on the lecternbesides failing to gesticulate for extended periods of time. Thefrequency of eye blinking exhibited by Nixon was too high therebydisastrous to his presentation before the audience (1960Kennedy-Nixon Debate (Part II), 1960).To be precise, the television recording reveals some instances whereNixon’s eye blinks exceeded one in a second. The rapid flutteringof his eyes caused by the abnormally high blinking rates resulted tothe still photos that portrayed him as having closed his eyes.Kennedy simply presented a constricted and ordinary appearance eventhough he still emerged the winner.

Therefore,it is apparent that Nixon lacked composure even though heoutperformed Kennedy on key discussion issues. The first televiseddebate turned out to be a startling revelation since the televisionwas a recent invention at the time of the debate (Higdon, 2008). Fromthe debate, it is evident that nonverbal cues are important in anydebate or presentation. It is imperative for other politicians justlike Nixon and Kennedy to understand that the objective of anypresentation is to persuade the voters. As a result, the failure ofthe politicians to persuade the voters by using effective nonverbalcues is a gateway to their failure in the forthcoming elections. This can be an advantage for their counterparts capable of exhibitingsterling nonverbal persuasion cues. In a bid to create favorableimpressions among the individuals that turn out to be the potentialvoters, politicians ought to engage both verbal and nonverbalpersuasion cues.

Inthe field of political science, nonverbal persuasion cues are moreimpactful than verbal persuasion (Higdon, 2008). Therefore, as muchas the politician should endeavor to use the correct arguments andresponses to issues, the individual should exhibit the appropriatephysical expressions, appearances and other non-verbal cues. Thisexplains the reason why the media concentrates on the performance ofthe politician on nonverbal aspects rather than the verbal ones sincemost politicians prepare their speeches in advance. Prior to the useof nonverbal persuasive cues in making judgments on the effectivenessand credibility of a speaker, social scientists had already venturedinto the area and heightened the significance of nonverbal cues topersuade the audience. However, it is evident that the Kennedy-Nixondebate revealed the first case of using nonverbal cues in both theAmerican and world history. At the time of the debate, people(particularly radio listeners) did not understand why Nixon did notemerge as the victor in the debate. However, the contemporarygeneration can understand that Nixon’s inability to exhibit theeffective use of nonverbal persuasion provides an explanation for hisfailure.


Fromthe debate, it is evident that personal appearance can have asignificant impact on the credibility and effectiveness of a speaker.Kennedy’s victory in the 1960 presidential debate heightens thesignificance of nonverbal persuasion and physical appearance towardswinning the support of the audience. In the debate, Kennedy emergesthe winner even though Nixon appears to outperform him in dealingwith the issues. The effectiveness and credibility of Kennedyemanates from his ability to use nonverbal persuasion to persuade theaudience. Nixon, on the other hand, lacks confidence and perspiresvisibly throughout the debate. Nixon also blinks at abnormally highrates thereby portraying his inability to use nonverbal communicationto persuade the audience.


1960Kennedy-Nixon Debate (Part II)[Video file]. (1960). In InternetArchive.Retrieved June 8, 2016, from

Higdon,M. J. (2008). Oral Argument and Impression Management: Harnessing thePower of Nonverbal Persuasion for a Judicial Audience. U.Kan. L. Rev.,57,631.