Body Language in Action: Assertive or Aggressive?

Gestures: To Point or Not to Point?

This is one of a series of articles written in response to the action taking place in Singapore’s General Election.

The aim of this post is to share with you lesson on public speaking – the good and bad – from Singapore’s potential representatives in parliament.

Please note that I do not know most of these people personally, and so any criticisms of their speaking styles or perceptions of them on stage should not be seen as an attack on their personalities.

It’s my hope that my evaluations could help you in your growth and preparation for future challenges too.


Singaporeans who have been following the election rallies online would’ve seen several speakers in action. Some have commented that some appear and look sincere. Others commented that some appear high handed and aggressive.

I’ve had the chance to review some videos, and found a couple of examples, of how body language (and tone of voice, but we will not talk about that for the time being) contribute to the overall perception of a speaker and the impressions he gives others.

To help you gain a clearer understanding of what I’m talking about, have listen to the following speech for the text and content, and review it by watching the full video of the speaker in action.

Excerpt from the First Minute of Speech
Young voters of Sembawang

This is an important election for you

This is.. this election is about which party you trust to secure a better future for you

This election is about which party you think is more capable of doing the good job for you

And this election is about which party you want to achieve your dreams

As a young person 

I stand here today more excited and more optismistic about our future than never before

We stand here at the starting line of life

With a very good pair of running shoes

Now, let’s review the same speech and speaker, but with visuals of him speaking. Observe the difference:








What are your main observations?







Judging from the first video (the one where you could only hear Mr Ong speak), I could safely say that he does come across as an assertive and confident speaker.

 Use of Pauses 

What contributed to that perception and clarity would be his ability to pace appropriately, and pausing sufficiently to allow the audience to digest what he’d just said.  Although some of the pauses were due to him collecting his thoughts and correcting himself, I think they do lend some credence to him speaking from the heart (that he is not reading from a script!). So I’ll give him credit where credit is due.

Still on the topic of pausing, the initial pauses do help to drum up some dramatic effect as he sought to drive home the gravity and importance of voting for the right party. Observe:

This is an important election for you

This election about which party, you trust to secure a better future for you

This election is about which party you think, is more capable of doing [a] good job for you

And this election is about which party you want [extended pause <— most important point coming up ——>] to help you achieve your dreams

[Extra-extended pause to signify a break and switch in direction towards the next point: an illustration]…

 “You” Are Important!

Another key strategy the speaker used, was his incessant reference to the audience as “you”, rather than ladies and gentlemen and friends, or “you all”. The use of “You” allows the speaker to establish a direct (personal) connection to the audience.

Barack Obama used it too. Check out here at: How to Establish a Connection and Engage Your Audience Like Obama


Perceived Aggression?

I’ve noted several feedback online, that the speaker came across as too aggressive from the video. It would appear, that that perception could’ve arisen from his excessive pointing of his index figure throughout the video, particularly at the start.

Pointing in a particularly authoritative gesture, and I liken its excessive use to that of aiming a laser beam or an arrow towards a target. It’s okay to use it sparingly, or to make a reference towards something else, but to use it in conjunction with the word “you” does contribute towards an aura of aggression and excessive authority – which some people might naturally link with intimidation.

Tone of Voice

Contributing to the perception of “aggression” may also be attributed to the consistent “downward” tone of voice as he trails to pause and/or complete his sentence.

For example, his call to vote “for the PAP” (9:15-9:18) sounds more like an instruction, than a request or appeal. Match that with his exalting of facilities at Singapore’s Republic Polytechnic (voice tone trailing upwards) over the London School of Economics (voice tone trailing downwards), the tone of voice’s similar – which does suggests his confidence and assuredness about the point that our facilities are better (positive) over that the LSE (negative).

Same goes to the tone he uses when asking questions. It does not suggest an openess for answers, but a rhetorical one… and one that he obviously has an answer (and so you’d better not disagree!)

Get my drift?


As a final note, the speaker could lighten up the overall mood a bit by smiling every now and then, particularly during the later segment in the video when he recounted how he’d successfully helped residents in his ward.

* * *

Now to add some contrast to this speaker, I would just like to share with you some other examples, also from this election period.

Observe the difference(s)

[Due to copyright reasons, I will not be able to edit the videos. You do note have to watch the full video. I think the first 1-2minutes should give you ample  insight of the positive signals]

In summary:

– Your voice and body gestures count

– Point sparingly to make a reference, but not throughout the speech

– Beware of your tone of voice – a consistent “downward trail” points towards instruction and intimidation.

* * *

Just some general thoughts on the quality of speech presented by one speaker. Please note that the speaker, like you and I, is not perfect, and we can all do well to share pointers for learning. But let it be constructive.

Share your comments below!

And I promise you there’ll be more shining examples and gems for learning to come!

Talk soon!

Your Public Speaking Coach,




Click here to join the Shy Speakers Guide on Facebook!

Related Posts:

Power Moves – 5 Tips to Make Body Language Work For You

Power Failure – How Not To Use Your Body

That’s Not A Look – That’s My Face!

Other Body Language Tips


One thought on “Body Language in Action: Assertive or Aggressive?”

  1. The entire speech content and delivery should be in sync.

    Delivery trumps content.

    On the delivery side, non-verbal delivery trumps verbal.

    Recall the famous Nixon/Kennedy debates. Those who listened on the radio gave the edge to Nixon. Those who watched on TV picked Kennedy as the winner.

    Thanks for the Post!

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