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Ed Miliband: Jabbing Without Pointing, Communicating Without Connecting

03/03/2015 09:27 GMT | Updated 02/05/2015 10:59 BST

Ed Miliband looks like a man who's taken a crash course in interpersonal communication without making it his own.

The Labour leader is betrayed by two signature gestures which just about sum up his style. One is the 'point without a point'. The other is the 'head jab'. Together, they embody a man who looks so pressured it's obvious he's still not ready for prime-time.

Firstly the point without a point: The fingers close in a loose fist, the thumb protruding, in a pointing gesture without the index finger actually being extended. Watch anyone who's not convinced by their own communication and you'll spot they rely on it a lot. It can be seen as insincere because it is often used. And it doesn't really make any sense because it is so unnatural.

You wouldn't use it if you were having dinner with someone, so why does the leader of the opposition think it's OK to rely on it so much?

The purpose of this gesture, presumably, is to provide emphasis. It was credited to Bill Clinton (who could make it work) in the 1990s but is now so routinely overdone it looks manufactured.

Miliband could choose an open palm gesture instead. But he's nervous and wants to look like he's a man of conviction. So he points... almost.

And everyone seeing it will probably have a similar reaction. They wonder, at some level, why he needs to resort to it. They conclude, either consciously or unconsciously, that this is not a man who seems particularly comfortable in his own skin.

Often when Miliband is supposed to be enjoying himself it's obvious he's not. He might be sitting awkwardly or uncomfortably, or speak in a way that sounds overly rehearsed.

A classic example is when the Labour leader is filmed eating or drinking for a photo op. It seems like a bit of an ordeal for him. He pretends to like it, but you can tell he'd be more comfortable doing something else.

In technical terms this is known as 'non-verbal leakage'. It's what happens when unconscious body language undermines the verbal message.

You don't see it much in charismatic people because they tend to communicate in a way that fits together. Their language, voice and body language are all complimenting each other, so there are no alarm bells ringing for the viewer. You'd expect it in a man who wants to be prime minister.

Sometimes when he's asked a question he replies with an answer that is quite blatantly pre-prepared. This is accompanied by his second signature gesture, the 'head jab'. He tries to be overly deliberate. It comes across like he's been over-coached.

Miliband's team had five years to fix this, but they've failed to do so. The result is Labour is going into the 2015 election led by a man who lacks the interpersonal skills so crucial to winning the hearts and minds of the electorate.

This is doubly sad because if you read between the lines, Ed Milliband is an empathetic, brave and sincere man who is clearly intelligent.

But he comes across as wonkish and not confident enough to dominate the stage. He doesn't exude that Alpha behaviour we expect the most powerful person in Britain to have. Voters will be looking for someone who can deal with the existential threats we face whether they be economic, environmental or terrorism.

The press have been cruel and through countless ad hominem attacks have planted the seeds of discontent. These attacks may be superficial, but they matter. He will be kept on the back foot throughout the campaign.

So how does Miliband escape this straitjacket of negative media coverage and relentless attack?

Firstly, he needs to dispense with the clichés to convey a clear message about why Britain is not on the right track. Having a succession of soundbites is not going to be enough.

What is needed is a moment when he resets the dial. If I were him, I would write a heartfelt speech that clearly outlines his vision and values and deliver it in the most authentic way possible. He must steal the momentum back from the government and make people take a second look at what he stands for.

If he fails to take control of his agenda with some powerful rhetoric voters aren't going to connect with him.

Until that happens, one word will follow the Labour party leader around - and it's not 'leader'.

Instead the millstone around Miliband's neck is 'awkward' - as his point without a point and head jab show all too well.

Nick Smallman is chief executive of communications training firm Working Voices