How to look intellectual, Part 2

For some unknown reason, this post is one of the most popular ones on this blog (along with the North Korean torture oil paintings; you people sicken me).

Well some guy just did the same thing but better. You can watch him here:


Slick moves

Watch this video with the sound on. It’s worth it.

It’s difficult to overstate how much I, as a connoisseur of fine PR, enjoy RT’s work.

I assume that this guy genuinely is a spy of some variety. Not just because he has the too-clean look of a secret policeman (he also looks like he’s openly wearing an earpiece, so he’s probably someone‘s security guy to start with, just going the extra mile with the aid of a retro manbag full of directional microphones), but also because I’m not convinced that RT would decide to out a complete stranger just for the hell of it – for all they know he could well turn out to be a Russian spook collecting audio of a supposedly off-the-record meeting.

Also let’s face it, most of the people in that shot look pretty shady to begin with. You could add the Pink Panther soundtrack to footage of any one of them and end up with something almost as hilarious. If they’re picking on this one individual, we can only assume it’s because they know who he is and want to fuck with his employers.

Xi Jinping’s epic moves

No really. I know it’s not a phrase you hear often.

We’ve mentioned the importance of who goes through a door first in politics here before. The implication is that whoever is last through is in charge.

If you’re playing this game, you have a double disadvantage if you are a) the guest and b) on the non-handle side of the door. Not that this bothers old smoothie Xi, however. Check out the way he effortlessly outmanoeuvres David Cameron in this video.

Get in there you beauty

Doing it wrong

Another one for the “not Asia” files, but I couldn’t resist, particularly since it’s an ancient post on body language that gets me most of my hits here.

If you’re reading this from the UK, you’ll probably already have seen that photo of George Osborne.

Yeah, that one.

Guido, however, has an explanation:

This rather odd photo of Osborne standing on stage before his speech yesterday is doing the rounds, with less kind elements of the Twitterati suggesting that he looks a bit weird. Guido can offer an explanation behind the ungainly pose. Top storytelling and speaker coach Peter Botting reveals:

“The broadening of the shoulders, the slow breathing and pumping his chest out, standing with his legs apart for stability and on the balls of his feet – it’s a confidence thing he is using to get himself in the zone – ready for his speech.” 

And you thought it was just because Thea liked him to do it like that. Method behind the madness…

Which is a fair point. They’re all good tips. But – and I in no way wish to cast doubt upon Mr. Botting’s storytelling abilities – here’s the thing: it shouldn’t be obvious to the audience that that’s what you’re doing. And it certainly shouldn’t look like you’re about to participate a in ski-jumping event.

Want to see some people doing it properly?

Royal Family

Prince Philip gets a lot of flack, but by God he receives it with excellent posture. No one can stand in one place like the Duke of Edinburgh. Always a pleasure to watch.

Whenever Putin walks away from something

True story. And you know why? Because he stands up straight.

Actually – it’s the balls-of-the-feet thing that’s most observable here. You’ll occasionally even notice him bounce up and down once or twice, which I believe is a judo thing. (In martial arts they say that you should just be able to slide a single sheet of paper underneath – take note George.)

Of course, the second he sits down it all goes to hell and he’s slouching all over the shop with his legs wide apart like a long-lost cousin of Boris Johnson’s, but ho hum, you can’t have everything.

Junichiro Koizumi yasukuni

Junichiro Koizumi. Actually, I could have picked pretty much any Japanese politician here. They’re generally much less agressive in their posture than leaders from other countries, but they’re so precise about it that it has a similarly intimidating effect. Which is not something you often hear said about a man wearing toe socks.

Don’t wear a plain red tie (but not because these guys say so)


According to researchers at Durham University, rather than conveying a certain testosterone-fuelled fortitude, red clothing sends out a signal that the wearer is angry, aggressive and prone to dominant behaviour.–xkgdAG6kxWW

Well, yes. That’s Ed Miliband: the archetypal alpha male; angry agressive and prone to dominant behaviour.

Doesn’t work, does it?

In fact, you shouldn’t wear a plain red tie because it says either:

a) I have no imagination, or

b) I was dressed by a stranger.

This is the reason researchers ar Durham University aren’t pulling down megabucks via their international PR consultancy.

How to pretend to be an intellectual


A while ago I was chatting to a bloke from the French MoD (yes, one of those) and he asked me whether I considered myself to be intelligent.
‘I’m plausible,’ I replied, smugly.
‘Good answer.’

And that’s a large part of the reason I love this Tumblr about the gestures that people use when they want to look clever so much. I’ve used every single one of these ‘Look at me being intellectual’ gestures when speaking in public. Every last one. I am a shallow, manipulative cockbag.

I suspect that their ultimate origin comes from the French “intellectuels médiatiques, for whom it is almost obligatory to flail around like a souk trader if you wish to have any credibility at all. Thanks to TEDx and various related enterprises, these gestures have become a global currency when it comes to conveying a sense of passion and belief in one’s topic. It’s all bollocks of course, some of the brainiest people are terrible speakers (Nassim Taleb, particularly, looks and acts as though he wandered into his sitting room and found it full of people expecting him to give a speech). Moreover, we are all fully aware of the fact on an intellectual level. In general, however, our hearts overrule our heads, and the I-am-an-intellectual gestures work like a charm. Otherwise no one would do them.

For politicians, of course, the opposite is true: you need to restrict your hand-gestures, or people begin to suspect that you’re trying to sell them something. Spin doctors and PR consultancies actually train them to do this, like dressage horses (but less aesthetically pleasing).

The only two that are fully condoned are, in the words of everyone who’s ever made a living adding silly captions to these things:

a) ‘Enormous bosoms’

enormous bosomsb) ‘Huge cock’

huge cock

(You were expecting Vladimir Putin sitting with his legs wide apart, weren’t you? And, while we’re on the subject: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PLEASE STOP DOING THAT.)

… Because they convey an impression of solid and earnest sincerity.

Some pols are so successful at doing nothing with their hands that it becomes a career-defining feature:

Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel has actually admitted that the famous hand gesture came about just to give her something non-distracting to do with her arms while on official business.

But this doesn’t mean that paying fanatically detailed attention to every micro-gesture is the sine qua non of political success.

Boris Johnson, for example, has based his whole career on letting it all hang out:

And it works for him, because underneath it all he’s smart and ruthless enough to pull it off. If a less gifted or self-possessed politician tried it, the journalists would be on him like feeding time at the piranha pond. Boris, on the other hand, actually manages to use his own eccentricities to gain far more latitude for himself than anyone else enjoys. As various people have pointed out, a string of affairs and illegitimate children and agreeing to have people beaten up would finish anyone else’s career, but Boris can get past it with five minutes bluster and a sheepish smirk because that is what he’s good at. And, more importantly, it’s believable. He clearly doesn’t feel that shagging his way through North London is a big deal, and he’s so sure of himself that he manages to convince the audience too.

Vladimir Putin does the opposite thing, oddly enough, but to the same effect. Rather than going out of his way to look like a politician, he behaves exactly like what he is: an ex-KGB goon. And – as with Boris Johnson – the approach is more effective than the identikit borrowed-from-Tony-Blair politician’s standard issue persona would be.

Take this example (largely because the comic timing of the last line never fails to have me in stitches):

He’s not using any of the little tricks that a bog-standard grifter like me would deploy to focus attention on themselves (if anything, it looks like he’s the one who’s been summoned for a good bollocking, rather than the other way round), and because of that he’s actually more successful in doing so. We all now know that this is someone so scary that he doesn’t even have to make an effort.

Of course, if you want to try this then you need to have the force of character to back it up. Ed Miliband couldn’t decide tomorrow ‘Well, the vague OE schtick works for Boris, so from now on I’m going to do it.’ People might not necessarily pick up on the manipulative undertones of certain gestures, but they can always spot a fake personality: