Week 4

4.01 - Facial Expressions

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.

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.

4.02 - Speaking with your Hands

The speaking part of public speaking can be challenging enough. Body language and hand gestures are just icing on the cake for some. If you’ve never been taught what gestures to use and not to use while speaking to a group, you may have no idea what you’re supposed to do with them. The following tips will give you the tools you need to make your speech even more powerful through hand gestures.

Don’t gesture too big

You’ll distract your audience and may be seen as out of control. Generally speaking, you should allow your hands to rest at your side and gesture as appropriate. Move your hands in the region between the top of your chest to your hips. This is an effective space to gesture without distracting your audience. When you gesture, take up space and move your hands away from your body. If your elbows stay close to your torso and only your hands and forearms move, you will look awkward! Gestures can be bigger when speaking in front of large audiences.

Avoid distracting and closed off gestures

For example, you never want to put your hands on your hips or cross your arms over your chest. The first "power pose" could make you appear condescending, while the second makes you seem closed off to your audience. You always want to stay open to your audience, whether it is one person or 300 people. Also make sure that you never put your hands in your pockets while you’re giving a presentation unless you want to come across as very casual and informal. Wringing your hands or fidgeting becomes very distracting and makes you appear nervous. A good rule of thumb is: if the audience is watching your hands, your gestures are distracting.

Use power gestures

Just like there are power stances and powerful words, there are also powerful hand gestures that make you look in charge. You can try steepling your hands (think about Kevin O'Leary on Shark Tank), gesturing at the crowd when something directly affects them, or facing your palms up. This has the opposite effect of crossing your arms over your chest. It makes you seem open and honest. Be careful not to point at your audience or move your hands and fingers about chaotically. Keep your fingers together to appear in control.

Make your hand gestures natural

If they look too rehearsed or over the top, your audience will notice and feel that your presentation is scripted and lacking spontaneity. Practice your hand gestures in conversation and natural settings, so that when you’re employing these gestures in a formal way, you look natural.


Hand gestures and body language are just as important to a speech or presentation as the words you’re saying. They help you to build trust with your audience. Feeling like you need a demonstration? Successfully Speaking can help you learn to speak and gesture like a pro.

4.03 - Standing Tall

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.

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.

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, even though it might just be that you are cold! 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 you 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!

4.04 - Eye Contact

The eyes are often referred to as the “windows to the soul” and they play a key part in face-to-face communication. They can create a powerful connection between the speaker and listener. Eye contact is one of the critical components of non-verbal communication and it carries several subtle rules of engagement. The presence or lack of eye contact can communicate dominance, submission, honesty, interest, passion, respect, or even hostility. It also shows we are an active listener.

Various cultures place different degrees of importance on whether or not to maintain eye contact, and what it may convey. In American culture, eye contact is essential to convey honesty, sincerity, and confidence. On the other hand, in some cultures, e.g., China, India, the Philippines, to name a few, a downward gaze shows respect to elders or authority figures. A Filipino student reported that he was reprimanded at home when he made eye contact with his father; yet, at school, he was criticized by his teacher for not looking at her when she spoke. An Indian physician who is currently practicing medicine in the USA has learned that he must use eye contact with his patients, regardless of their age or status; this is not consistent with his rules of eye contact in India.

We must be careful to use eye contact appropriately.

  • Too much eye contact results in staring which can become awkward and may be interpreted as threatening or hostile.
  • Too little eye contact or looking away may be seen as lack of confidence or honesty.
  • Fluttering eyes or frequent blinking may appear to convey nervousness or lack of confidence.
  • Gazing upward to the left can be interpreted as visually recalling information or upward to the right as constructing information (according to neurolinguistic programming theory).
  • When the chin is down and one looks upward, we interpret this as submissive; chin up with the eyes looking downward is seen as dominant.

In networking, job interviews, or social situations, eye contact can reveal more than you desire. Visually searching the room as your conversational partner is speaking will certainly communicate your lack of interest or desire to find someone more interesting. Glancing at your watch can have the same effect. When speaking to a group, many people attempt to make eye contact with several different people, but may make the mistake of darting their eyes too quickly. As a result, eye contact is made with no one at all. When using notes, if you speak while looking down at the notes, you will lose your connection with the audience. Instead, glance down, and then look up as you speak.

As a rule of thumb, maintain eye contact for four to six seconds. Break the contact occasionally by looking away as you are pausing. Look at your conversational partner as you speak and as they speak to you. If actual eye contact is very difficult for you, look at the bridge of their nose between their eyes. If you are speaking to a large audience, alternate your gaze to different parts of the audience (left, center, right) and speak to the people, not the wall at the back of the room.

Remember to smile; this changes your eyes in a positive way. Ask yourself if you know the color of your conversational partner’s eyes. If not, chances are you were not maintaining proper eye contact.

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