Your Face Says It All: Facial Expressions from Successfully Speaking

There is so much more to communication than just what you say. Your body language, facial expressions, and eye contact (or lack thereof) are just as important as words when you’re communicating with others. For example, consider a time that you were being interviewed. Was your interviewer serious the whole time, or did they smile? How did their facial expressions make you feel while you were being interviewed? Were you unnerved by a serious interviewer....Put at ease by someone who smiled and made eye contact? Have you seen someone deliver bad news with a smile on their face? Then you already know the importance of facial expressions for communication and how facial expression should match the emotional content.

What you may not have considered is how communicating through facial expressions actually works. First and foremost, it’s always important to be conscious and aware of your facial expressions. It can be second nature to frown when you're upset or smile when something goes your way. Once in a while, though, it’s necessary to employ a “poker face,” especially in the business world. Being able to hide your emotions with a blank face or smile when you’re upset can come in handy if you’re trying to appear neutral to a potential employer or business partner.

If you’re giving a speech or a presentation where you’re trying to make people comfortable, start out with a smile. It will show your audience that you’re happy to be there, and confident in the material that you’re about to deliver. While your smile may be a little forced (especially if you’re nervous), try to make it as natural as possible. Think of something that makes you happy before you stand up, and hold on to that thought before you begin your speech or presentation. It will make your smile seem more organic and believable. Genuine smiles travel all the way up to your eyes. 

To better understand what your facial expressions are like, and how they convey messages, take some time to make faces in front of a mirror. It may seem a little silly to you at first, but it will help you understand how your facial muscles feel when you are expressing certain emotions. Try out the 7 main emotions that are expressed through facial expressions, and then see how they compare in feeling to the real emotions in order to grasp better control of how you’re communicating.

  1. Joy
  2. Anger
  3. Sadness
  4. Contempt
  5. Surprise
  6. Fear
  7. Disgust

If you have a mirror handy when you’re experiencing these feelings organically, try to take a second to see how your face looks and take stock of how your muscles feel. Understanding your personal facial expressions will help you to communicate more effectively both one-on-one and in presentation settings.

And remember to smile on the telephone! It actually comes through in your voice! 

Want to know learn more about facial expression and body language in communication? Successfully Speaking can help you learn more about yourself and what your most effective communication style is. Visit our website at, or give us a call for a FREE 15 minute consultation at 410-356-5666.


Do You Speak Toofast or Toooo S-L-O-W-L-Y?

Think of a time that you’ve had to get up in front of a group of people and talk. Maybe it was a board meeting, a classroom setting, a presentation to a group of peers, or even your best friend’s wedding. Right before you got up to speak, did you think “I just can’t wait to get this over with?” If you did, rest assured that you’re not alone. The majority of people have a tendency to speak much faster when they get up in front of a crowd, for a few different reasons.
Two of the biggest factors are nerves and the natural tendency to want to be finished as quickly as possible. The problem with speeding up your speech in front of a crowd is that you can become hard to understand and may even stumble over your own words, making the whole situation more difficult than it was to begin with. So, with all that being said, let’s delve into rate of speech norms.

What is a typical rate of speech?

For most people, conversational speech falls in somewhere between 150-180 words per minute (WPM), with 180 being a little fast. The average speaker in a TED talk falls at right about 163 WPM. Speaking at this rate is quick enough to hold the interest of the crowd, while slow enough to seem conversational and natural. It’s easy to ramp your rate of speech up above 180 WPM, or even fall below 150 WPM, if you aren’t focusing on monitoring your rate. 

Why am I speaking faster or slower than the norm?

One of the biggest influences of your rate of speech is simply the culture that you’re raised in. Is American English your first language? Who you grow up with, where you grow up, and what you do for a living can all have an effect on your rate of speech - this is totally normal. Some other factors are the complexity of your sentences, mental fatigue, where you place your pauses, and how you’re feeling at the time that you’re speaking. Longer complex sentences and difficult words can cause you to slow your speech too much, while a combination of nerves and quick sentences can lead to imprecise pronunciation.

How can I find and correct my rate of speech?

The most accurate way to figure out your rate of speech is to have someone record you giving a speech or presentation, and then analyze your speech for an average WPM count. However, this is tedious and complicated, although it can give you a clear view of what your speech patterns are and how you can improve them. You can also read aloud a reading passage in a conversational manner. Count up the words of the passage and time yourself for 30 seconds or a minute (calculate accordingly). You can then determine your rate. Listen to some of these examples of varying rates: 

              Fast 204 WPM
              Average 168 WPM
              Slow 130 WPM
              Very Slow 90 WPM

Teach yourself to either speed up or slow down by trying a variety of different strategies. To slow down, stretch out your vowels so your message does not become clipped or choppy (" I will caaaall you at niiiine"). Speak in phrases and insert pauses at appropriate places ("I will meet you / in the conference room / at 3:00 today"). This will help keep your message intact.  If you have notes, consider putting a reminder in to slow down or speed up, depending on your normal rate. Add pauses for emphasis or to change things up.

If you’re still having trouble or feel that your speech isn’t coming across as intended, it may be time to talk to a communication coach. Contact us to learn more about modifying your rate of speech.

 Check out the fastest talking man

Tell us about some of your strategies. What works? 

Feel the Authority, Be the Authority

Speaking with an authoritative voice can be a real challenge, no matter who you are. Sometimes it can feel like walking a tightrope. If you go too far one way and end up sounding meek, you lose your credibility. Leaning too far the other direction can leave you sounding angry or irrational. It’s necessary to find that perfect balance of calm, yet firm speech to assert your authority and get people to listen.

The question that plagues speakers is how to achieve that balance. Which physical and vocal cues will help to demonstrate your authority to a person or group of people? There are a few different things you can do – some physical and some vocal - to demonstrate authority. Let’s start with your voice!

Vocal Authority

1.      First, harness the power of a strong pause. Learning where to put a pause in a sentence will make people listen and take note. If your sentence is short, try adding a strong pause halfway through your sentence. An example would be, “Let’s go to the meeting (pause) right now.” For longer sentences, try two pauses in similar places in order to get your point across. Pausing will also eliminate those word fillers.

2.      Emphasize the last words before the pause. This is where the tightrope walk comes in. You never want to sound angry when you’re emphasizing a word, so avoid just making the word louder. Instead, make an effort to place vocal emphasis on the word by raising the pitch, holding it out longer, and making it louder. Remember to stay calm, cool, and collected and drop your pitch at the end of your sentence.

3.      Use clear pronunciation and keep your tone even. When I say even, I don't mean monotone. We need vocal variety! Make sure you’re keeping your demeanor level, but still placing emphasis on important words and points. Speak clearly and naturally.

Physical Authority

1.      Own the room. Whenever you’re speaking to a group of people, make sure that you walk into a room like it’s yours. Meekly entering a room, making self-deprecating jokes, or acting nervous is a way to immediately demean your authority. Be a strong presence in the room by keeping your head up, making eye contact, and sitting toward the front of the room if you’re in a meeting. 
Check out our video on harnessing the nervousness.

2.      Power pose! Stand in a way that makes you feel powerful and authoritative. Make sure you try it out at home before you get up in front of a group of people, but it’s much easier to give off an aura of authority when you feel physically strong.
Check out our video on posture.

3.      Avoid pacing while talking.  Your audience will see it as a distraction, much like you'd be distracted by someone sitting next to you shaking his/her leg.  Moving naturally, on the other hand, brings energy to what you are saying. Just move in a way that is natural to you, the way you would if you were talking to a friend.

What other ideas can you suggest? Please comment below. 

Stand Tall to Convey Power and Confidence

When preparing for a presentation, sermon, or an interview, many of us focus on “What am I going to say?” When we attend networking events, we worry about our elevator speech.  We often neglect the most important part ….our nonverbal communication! Body language influences how people perceive us. Many times, it’s not only WHAT we say, but how we LOOK when we say it.

How we walk into a room, stand in front of the audience, sit at a desk, or wait in the waiting area conveys volumes to the observer. Amy Cuddy, from The Harvard Business School, researched this area, and discussed high-power and low-power poses’ effects on our brain chemistry and confidence (1) Check out her famous TED talk  

Posture is often the first feature that is noticed. Standing or sitting posture shows the observer your confidence level.

Watch yourself in a mirror or on video.

Are you slumped forward, as if the world is carried on your shoulders? Hold your head high and keep your shoulders back. You will immediately signal confidence. Imagine you are a puppet on a string and the string maintains your proper alignment.

For those who love technology, there is a feedback device called Lumo Lift that gives you tactile reminders when you begin to slouch. I have seen rapid changes in my clients who use this device. Check it out.

Here are some tips for good posture:

  • Keep your feet planted on the ground 6-8 inches apart. One foot can be slightly in front of the other. However, do not cross your legs while standing or stand with one hip thrown forward. These postures can undermine your image of power and confidence.
  • When standing, point your feet towards the listener to show active engagement.   
  • Allow your hands to rest at your sides so you can gesture naturally. Avoid hiding your hands behind your back or in your pockets. Crossing your arms over your chest often implies that you are closed off. Fidgeting, holding your hands or arm, or touching your face while talking becomes a distraction.  Honesty, openness, and sincerity are conveyed when the audience can see the palms of your hands.
  • Watch how you hold your head. A head tilt is not as powerful, but may be used intentionally to show active listening. As your turn your head to look at the audience, turn your complete body. This squared-off posture projects power and involvement with the listener.   

As a rule, keep your heart facing the audience or your conversational partner, and sit or stand tall. Whether you are six feet tall or four foot eleven, your posture sets the stage to project a positive and powerful image!

Contact us to learn more about effective communication skills.


1. Cuddy, Amy J.C., Caroline A. Wilmuth, and Dana R. Carney. "The Benefit of Power Posing Before a High-Stakes Social Evaluation." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 13-027, September 2012.


Are You Sure? What's Up with Uptalk?

Uptalk has received a lot of attention when discussing female speech patterns.  This phenomenon originated in the 1970’s and 80’s in Southern California and was called Valley Girl talk. However, this conversational style is not limited to females.

What is uptalk or upspeak? It is the rising inflection at the end of declarative statements making them sound like questions.

Uptalk is appearing in the workplace on a regular basis, particularly with Millennials.  The prevalence of uptalk in their speech, both male and female, made me take pause. Why are they doing this?

What can you do about it? First, identify it. Record yourself. When you introduce yourself, are you making a statement or a question?

My name is Lynda Katz Wilner ↗ and my company is Successfully Speaking ↗


My name is Lynda Katz Wilner ↘ and my company is Successfully Speaking ↘

A questioning or rising inflection often tells the listener that we are unsure or tentative, or perhaps, not finished with what we want to say. However, to sound more definitive, end your statements with a downward pitch.

And here is the caveat………….we may choose to intentionally make our statement a question in an attempt to sound collaborative with our listener or to come across less authoritative.

We’ll meet at the end of the week? ↗

In summary, be mindful of uptalk and use it judiciously, if at all. There can be a time and place for it depending upon your intention. Remember overuse of any speech pattern can become a distraction.

Contact us at Successfully Speaking for 1:1 coaching or small group workshops.


Good vs. Well, Bad vs. Badly?

One of the challenges in correct grammar and communication is the appropriate use of adjectives and adverbs, such as good vs. well and bad vs. badly. When  writing  an email or greeting someone, what sounds more common or widely-used may not always be the correct choice.

Read More