Body Language Expert Breaks Down Kamala Harris' Victory Speech

Today was understandably an overwhelming and emotional experience for many people living in the U.S. (and probably some living abroad as well), and we're sure that goes double for Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. While you may have seen the short clip of her celebratory call with running mate (and now President-elect) Joe Biden earlier today, Harris projected — to us — nothing but serenity and thoughtful composure during her victory speech this evening. To gain more insight into Harris' mindset, The List spoke with Joseph Hoelscher, body language expert and Managing Attorney at Hoelscher Gebbia Cepeda PLLC.

Hoelscher agrees that overall Kamala Harris was incredibly composed, noting that he feels Harris has "...obviously got some formal training" when it comes to public speaking. Hoelscher describes the soon-to-be-VP's performance as "lawyerly" and states, "She was focused on her performance and delivery in a very deliberate way. Unlike Biden, she is focused on delivering her words precisely, which is probably because of her courtroom training."

Kamala Harris' hands gave away her years of training

While this deliberate and controlled speaking style seems to work for Harris in and outside the courtroom, Hoelscher says that to experts, her hands betray her. "Lawyers often struggle behind a podium, and she didn't know how to use it," he said. "Her hands were almost always close together, if not clasped ... her hands weren't moving organically, which you can tell from her minimal number of different hand gestures and the specific gestures. For example, she used the open hand gesture predominantly but her fingers were straight and touching with rarely any space between them. She also did the closed fist thumbs up gesture which is training, not nature."

While a pro like Hoelscher can pick out these learned habits from a mile away, us novices are a little less able to spot them. "Shoulders were straight on and squared almost throughout," he said. "All of which is to say that she was focused on a professional delivery to a fairly extreme degree for a polished speaker. To me, it means that she is a highly focused, driven, and likely intelligent person. It's hard to control that many aspects of your non-verbal communication at once while delivering a message so precisely." Count us impressed!

This tic may have caused concern to some viewers

If you're a more astute judge of body language, you might have been a little off-put by Harris' performance. You're not alone. Hoelscher agrees that there were some things the politician did during her victory speech that were slightly odd, stating, "I thought she might be deceptive because she kept looking up and to the right when talking about 'no matter if you voted for us.'" Luckily for all U.S. citizens, Hoelscher says that the conclusion about this specific tic, while widely circulated, has little scientific support. Not only that, but Hoelscher also believes Harris' strange movement can actually be attributed to one thing totally out of her control — the location of the teleprompter.

Upon reviewing the footage of Harris' speech, Hoelscher feels that (based on the relative regularity of Harris' glances up and to the right), she was probably just checking the teleprompter to make sure she was hitting all her key points in what was surely a high-pressure situation. "I reviewed the video again because it was so clockwork, but I think they set the teleprompter to Joe's height, which forced the movement. She was getting close to the end of the speech and probably wanted the teleprompter more to make sure she was right on script for a key message. I only point it out because it's a gesture that has entered common knowledge as indicating fabrication, although it isn't as useful as people think."

Kamala Harris knows how to have fun, but can be hard to read

As Harris is clearly an accomplished public speaker and politician, even Hoelscher had a little bit of trouble reading her body language. We're not sure if that is a good or bad thing for the U.S. people, as it may prove to be a great skill when negotiating with other countries, but gives us less insight into her inner workings. "I can't evaluate her feelings about her message because she's so controlled, but that says something about her as a person. I can say she is genuinely happy about winning but still focused on her job." At least we can all breathe a sigh of relief at that.

While there is nothing wrong with being in control of your emotions, we hope Harris is taking the time to congratulate herself on winning such a tight race and celebrating with friends and family. As to that, Hoelscher isn't so sure. "Maybe she'll relax enough to enjoy the moment, but it won't be for long." We've all seen her sweet dance moves on multiple occasions (in the rain, at parades, and even down an escalator), so we know the VP-to-be is not afraid to let her hair down from time to time. We can only hope she carries that joy with her to the White House.