Distract Me? Distract Me Not

As has been thoroughly covered in the follow-up press of President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night, Mr. Biden’s fidgeting was enough to drive many of us (including, ahem, me) straight up the wall.

While I understand from the follow-up reports that Mr. Biden was suffering from a cold, I’m unclear why this necessitated picking lint from his tie, repeatedly smoothing his hair, and the pendulum-like adjustment of his backside in his seat.

(I also think that—given the amount of warning he was likely to have had regarding when the President was going to begin speaking—Mr. Biden might have gotten that lozenge in his mouth prior to finding himself the focal point of America’s attention.)

Why was I so irritated by this? Because, as noted in How to Wow, 55% of your impact comes from what your body is doing while you’re speaking. When you’re presenting as a group—as President Obama surely was on Tuesday night—your team members must be considered part of your body. Mr. Biden’s fidgeting distracted me to the point that focusing on what was being said was exponentially more difficult.

What kind of physicality am I looking for in those surrounding you in a presentation? One of two sorts: your colleagues can be looking at you like they are on a (great) first date, or they can be looking around the room, checking for comprehension on the part of those listening.

That’s it.

What kind of calm, poise, confidence do I request in general? What Dick Diver so elegantly describes in “Tender as the Night” as “repose”, which he claims he has when no other men do. Here, a description of the fellow-diners in their restaurant whom he claims suffer from lack of repose,

“In another unseated party a man endlessly patted his shaven cheek with his palm, and his companion mechanically raised and lowered the stub of a cold cigar. The luckier ones fingered eyeglasses and facial hair, the unequipped stroked blank mouths, or even pulled desperately at the lobes of their ears.”

Imagine what a field day F. Scott Fitzgerald would have with our society—so filled with the pacifiers of cell phones and iPads, MP3 players and blue tooth devices.

Because, as Emily Mortimer so succinctly says in The Devil Wears Prada, when Anne Hathaway can’t stop fidgeting. “You have to be here. Deal with it.”