17 Tips For Facial Expressions In Speeches And Presentations

What public speakers should know about facial expressions
Facial expression

The importance of facial expressions in public speaking


When the topic of body language appears in the context of the speech, it is usually about gestures and a solid stand. Facial expressions are discussed, if at all, with the hint to smile. This is a pity because it has a lot to offer as well as the potential to harm if it is not appropriate. What does not fit the personality and role of the speaker is unintentionally funny, damages credibility and distracts from the content and the message.

The article deals with what it is worth paying attention to as a speaker concerning facial expressions.

Body language, facial expressions, and public speaking


In addition to the content of the speech, as a verbal part, the way of presentation and the non-verbal behavior are of particular importance. These include gestures, eye contact, eye direction, body tension, leg posture, volume, intonation and, often forgotten, pauses. Pauses before a message produce tension and after a message, they let the message work. In modern rhetoric, facial expressions have become less important than in the past. A facial expression that is too pronounced quickly has a theatrical and posed an effect on the audience. 




So facial expressions are no longer important?


Mimic is still important because public speakers who want to convince have to be authentic. And that includes lively facial expressions. Instead of orienting the facial expressions to Asian theatre masks or the pantomime from the pedestrian zone, Method-Acting delivers better results. If you mean what you say, this also includes the corresponding emotional states. If you experience inwardly with all your senses what you verbalize, then your face provides the appropriate facial expression anyway. At least as long as you haven’t stopped it with nerve poison against wrinkles.

Leave that deadpan expression to poker players and some politicians. A good presenter realizes that appropriate facial expressions are an important part of effective communication. Facial expressions are often the key determinant of the meaning behind the message. The audience is watching a speaker’s face during a presentation. When you speak, your face tells more clearly than any other part of your body about your attitudes, feelings, and emotions.

17 tips for facial expressions in your speeches and presentations


Your impact as a speaker depends a lot on your body language. You probably have control over the words you speak, but are you sure that you have control over what you are saying with your body language?  




1. Authentic, authentic, authentic


Effective body language supports the message and projects a strong image of the presenter. Anything that does not fit the personality and role of a public speaker and his or her message is unintentionally funny, damages credibility and distracts from the content and message. Those who mean what they say and perceive it this way at any given moment may automatically display the appropriate facial expressions. This is a frequent topic in my presentation training. Also, few speakers know how they affect the audience. An impact analysis is very enlightening here.




2. Smiling is contagious


Unfortunately, under the pressure of delivering in front of an audience, many people lose their facial expressions. Their faces solidify into a grim, stone statue, a thin straight line where the lips meet. Unfreeze your face right from the start. For example, when you address the audience, smile!

With a smile or even a laugh, it is easier to build a bridge to other people. This looks open and friendly. A real smile comes from within and is based on the right mental attitude and not on a mask. Such a permanent grin looks different than a real smile, which is called a Duchenne smile. The Duchenne smile is named after Guillaume Duchenne, a French anatomist who studied many different expressions of emotion, focusing on the smile of pure enjoyment. He identified the facial movements that make this genuine smile different from artificial types of smiles. A Duchenne smile is a natural smile of enjoyment, made by contracting the zygomatic major muscle and the orbicularis oculi muscle. In my words; the mouth, the eyes and the wrinkles around the eyes are involved and smile, the cheeks lifting.




3. Emotions


It is the presenter’s connection to the words that can bring them to life for the audience. Experience inwardly intensively what you want to convey, then the facial expressions reflect this. Less is more! Please do not grimace.




4. Lead with your gaze


The audience will register where you’re looking. In this way, you can direct the attention of the audience with your gaze. Look where the audience should look.

And be careful with misunderstandings. If you keep looking at the door, it will look as if you would like to escape.




5. Eye contact is connecting


The movements of your eyes, mouth, and facial muscles can build a connection with your audience. Alternatively, they can undermine your every word.

Good speakers know how important facial expressions are. Effective presenters engage one person at a time, focusing long enough to complete a natural phrase and watch it sink in for a moment. With a smile, they convey appreciation to the audience.

Keep looking at all faces, be attentive. Return a smile. Use clues such as a frown as an occasion to repeat or inquire about a statement in other words.




6. Pulling up the corners of your mouth on one side


Some facial expressions can irritate. One-sided lifting of the corners of the mouth can be interpreted as a sign of superiority and the speaker is then accused of arrogance or cynicism.




7. Enduring smile


A permanent smile seems artificial, complacent or even debilitating. Speakers don’t do themselves any favors.

Such behavior is reminiscent of bad show presenters or used car salesmen from US films. If you smile without a break, you make your counterpart suspicious. Beware of bad facial expressions, i.e. a superimposed smile.

If there are moments during your speech when you want to make the audience think, then that doesn’t fit. If you have put on an artificial smile, nobody takes you seriously.




8. A tense jaw


Who presses the teeth vigorously on each other, looks possibly angry and aggressive or at least cramped.




9. Smiling and showing teeth


What is more common in the USA is irritating in Germany, for example, than piranha smiles. Superficiality and an unfair sales mentality are easily assumed.




10. Grasping the nose or the mouth


Do not touch your nose, mouth or chin during your speech. This is a classic sign of insecurity and is quickly perceived as negative by your audience.

Since Pinocchio this has been considered a sign of lies and why should you voluntarily sow doubt?




11. Other delicate facial expressions


In my articles, The body language soothes or harms in delicate situations and 12 tips on how to promote confidence through body language you will find advice on how body language can help and how it can hurt.




12. Adapt your facial expressions to the size of the group.


As your audience grows, your facial expressions should become more pronounced. If the audience in the last row is not able to read your face, your facial expression will be perceived as a neutral expression and thus as your lack of interest.




13. Explore the effect of facial expressions


The facial expression usually has a small part in the presentation, which is why its role tends to be underestimated. It plays an important role in convincing the speaker and the message. It is worth exploring the impact.


Using all the various muscles that precisely control the mouth, lips, eyes, nose, forehead, and jaw, the human face is estimated to be capable of more than 10,000 different expressions. Explore different ways to use facial expressions. Start with the most common facial expressions and emotions.

There are seven universally recognized emotions shown through facial expressions:

  • anger
  • disgust
  • contempt
  • fear
  • happiness
  • sadness
  • surprise


Regardless of culture, these expressions are the same all over the world. They may differ in intensity.




14. Observe your audience


Just as your facial expressions provide insight into your emotions, your audience’s facial expressions provide insight into their emotional world.

Read the facial expressions of your audience. If the audience’s expressions are expressionless, for example, there is a possibility that they are intellectually elsewhere because they are bored. Or their facial expressions convey joy and excitement or they are eagerly receptive or…

By reading your audience’s facial expressions, you are better able to make spontaneous decisions and adjustments to capture attention.




15. Using a lectern or manuscript


Wherever your speech manuscript is located, whether as a pile of paper on the lectern or as key point cards in your hand, always avoid looking at the notes all the time. Learn from me how to keep in touch with the audience.




16. Practice, practice, practice


As with any presentation skill, facial expression requires practice to develop it to be both authentic and effective. Presenters who care deeply about their message tend to use their entire bodies to support the message.

Practice your presentation and the things you have experienced with me in front of a mirror to concentrate exclusively on your facial expressions during a rehearsal. While practicing in front of the mirror, see if your facial expressions convey the mood you want to create. If your face isn’t showing any emotion, stop, refocus, and do it again. This will help you to explore your expression playfully. The best way to do this is with professional support.





17. Support


As a professional speech coach, I will not practice masks with you but will point out potential misunderstandings and promote corresponding situations from within.

Just ask me personally

Let's get into a conversation. Please post any questions that may interest other readers in the comments. If you are interested in coaching or training, for personal questions about that and appointments you can reach me by e-mail (mail@karstennoack.com), phone +49(0)30 864 213 68 and mobile phone +49(0)1577 704 53 56. You can also use this contact form. Please read the information about the privacy policy.


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Presenters who care deeply about their message tend to use their entire bodies to support the message. - Karsten Noack

This article is a short excerpt from the more comprehensive course materials my clients receive in a group or individual training or coaching.

Published: June 27, 2019
Author: Karsten Noack
Revision: August 19, 2019
Translation: August 19, 2019
German version: https://www.karstennoack.de/rhetorik-mimik-koerpersprache/