Texts, Lies & Videotape: How Nonverbals Set Tom Brady’s Pants On Fire!

Text messages proved to be the centerpiece of the NFL’s investigation and conclusion that Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady and two other Patriot’s employees most likely knew about the now infamous deflated footballs. Not everyone agrees on the penalties being assessed against Brady and the Patriots, but almost everyone agrees that Tom Brady’s pants were on fire during the January news conference when he awkwardly grunted his way through thirty painful minutes.

One of the first rules for clients that we coach for media interviews is to tell the truth, and if you cannot tell the truth, do not speak with the press. Reputations are forever stained when you lie to the media and public. More than forty years later people still remember Richard Nixon going on camera and saying he wasn’t a crook, followed by his sad departure a year later from the White House. Bill Clinton pointed at the camera and said, “I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” He still enjoys power, but that incident and the stained blue dress are forever part of his history and reputation.

After the NFL’s investigation, I took another look at Brady’s January news conference. Studies show that nonverbal cues are the most telling part of your interviews, presentations and communications. Even the most successful poker players wear bandanas and sunglasses in an attempt to hide their nonverbal cues from the competition. Let’s take a closer look at why Brady’s press conference was such a bust and why so many people, including football Hall of Famers who witnessed it, concluded Brady was lying.

1.  Asymmetrical Gestures – During thirty minutes on camera Brady had a little more than two hundred asymmetrical gestures. From our studies in Neuro Linguistics and twenty-plus years of preparing people for speeches and media interviews, we know such gestures are telling. Natural, truthful and open gestures tend to be more symmetric. Asymmetrical movements distract because they are one-sided, lacking symmetry and harmony. You have more movements and gestures from one side of your body when you have conflicting beliefs. I recall an oil giant’s CEO years ago addressing a very public mishap; he made an inappropriate statement to the media about environmental activists. When he said it, he made a huge gesture with one side of his body and that one comment earned him major media time. Your unbalanced gestures draw as much attention as inappropriate words. Reporters and viewers feel uneasy when they see asymmetrical movements. They don’t necessarily understand why, but these gestures make them uncomfortable with the messenger, and therefore, with the message. You can coach someone all day long on words and movements, but you must address their conflicting beliefs to truly solve this issue. We have clients come to us for coaching to resolve conflicting beliefs before they conduct media interviews or other important matters. I think back to my days as a journalist and the spokespersons I immediately discounted. Now, I understand I was responding to the asymmetrical gestures that diminished their credibility and trustworthiness.

2. Pursed Lips – I counted at least thirty occasions when Brady pursed his lips. You can talk with twenty psychologists and you will hear twenty different opinions on what this means. The truth is, you would have to get into Brady’s mind to pinpoint the exact belief or thought behind this facial movement. However, it absolutely indicates he was nervous and very uncomfortable. If the speaker is uncomfortable, the audience is uncomfortable.

3. Shoulder Shrugs – Brady also shrugged his shoulders more than thirty times during his news conference. It was usually just one shoulder, so this is another type of an asymmetrical movement that indicates conflicting beliefs and hesitation about his message that day. I saw this recently when Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Co-Chair for New Hampshire was on Bloomberg News. He touted he knew how Clinton feels on all the key issues. Then, when the show’s hosts pressed him to be specific, his shoulders started jerking upward and he admitted he did not really know her stance on all the issues. Your nonverbal cues always tell on you before your words.

4. Mismatching Perceptions – Another nonverbal element that determines if an audience trusts you has to do with matching or mismatching perceptions. When I first watched Brady’s news conference, I was put off by the dumb jock persona. Brady has carefully groomed a GQ persona and you see as many shots of him and his model wife at formal affairs as you see of him in his Patriot’s uniform. For the January news conference he obviously wanted to portray an innocent, hardworking jock in workout sweats and a beanie cap. He actually said, “I get the snap, drop back and throw the ball,” as if to say he is just a simple guy. His grungy, grunting and hesitant delivery was too much of a mismatch from his usual smooth and articulate style.

You can be coached all day long on the right words and gestures, but ultimately, your conflicting beliefs and asymmetrical gestures will set your pants on fire. People will not believe you. This is why many people get mixed results when they speak with the media.