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Here's Why David Cameron's Hands Will Hold Him Back in Any TV Debate

10/03/2015 09:35 GMT | Updated 06/05/2015 10:59 BST

All those years in Downing Street may have cramped David Cameron's style. Maybe that's why he's shying away from a decent TV debate head-to-head with Ed Miliband.

It's the prime minister's hands that reveal a secret he wouldn't want voters in the 2015 general election to know about: that five years in the job is starting to get to him.

Just look close up at those stiff, wooden fingers and you'll see they are his biggest weakness.

If the fingers are rigid, with their points accentuated, then the speaker look tense. And that's bad news because it makes voters wonder why the person they rely on is so wound up.

Not good news if that person happens to be the prime minister.

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Great political communicators need variation in their behaviour, but the man who's been in Downing Street for the last five years doesn't have much range. Focusing on appearing resolute has meant sacrificing any kind of finesse.

To his credit, Cameron has attempted to turn this into a strength. He tries hard to look very serious most of the time, all furrowed brow and repetitive gestures. He speaks clearly and has a no-nonsense style about him that indicates he is in control.

But this comes at a cost. His face looks unvaryingly intense. He talks in bullet points. These show a man who's getting things done, but not necessarily someone at ease with what he's doing.

His signature gesture is a downward move of the hand, with the fingers together and the thumb sticking up. It looks like he's chopping wood, having been wound up like a toy.

At other times he pushes his hands out towards his audience in a forcefully defensive way, those fingers stiff and splayed. All the energy is flowing out of Cameron's hands.

It didn't used to be like this. When Cameron was new in the job he was more relaxed. Being comfortable as a communicator seemed to fit with the new, futuristic, moderate sheen he was bringing to the Conservative party.

Even in 2010 he seemed like a breath of fresh air when compared with Labour's tired old Gordon Brown.

Being in Downing Street, though, has noticeably changed his style.

All those difficult decisions have turned him into a politician who wants to demonstrate competence at the expense of nuance.

This is useful, but only to a point. Voters want to feel that, in a crisis, their leader can cope with making tough choices and relishes the responsibility of making them.

But they need more than just a resolute character. The electorate wants someone who's a human, not just someone who's serious.

So what the PM needs to do is lighten up a bit. We need to see him enjoying himself a little more so we can feel slightly more optimistic about the future - which is, after all what he wants.

If Cameron wants to win over floating voters he needs an upbeat message that Britain is moving in the right direction. 'Stick with me and we'll get there', he must tell voters. That means showing them he has the drive and the energy to finish the job.

Appearing more positive about the world around him would help the voters feel safer with him remaining in No 10. His restricted, wooden, tense style summed up by those awful stiff fingers isn't going to help him do it, though.

The tension he's carrying around all the time is physically preventing him from smiling. Compare Cameron to the warm smiles used to such great political effect by Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, John Major and Barack Obama. When the Conservative leader smiles he looks like a robot.

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So maybe his advisers should take some time out to see how people could see another side to him - a side that mixes his passion with the joy of leading.

Ask most people and they'll tell you that a leader who is enjoying leading is a better leader.

When Hamlet, giving advice to the players, instructs them: "Do not saw the air too much with your hands, thus, but use all gently". It's advice Team Cameron would do well to take - whether or not he ends up appearing in the TV debates.

Nick Smallman is chief executive of communications training firm Working Voices