The importance of facial expressions during hybrid presentations
Presentation skills is not just about the words you speak or the content on your slides. It encompasses everything… your gestures, your posture, your body language, your vocal tone, pitch and volume, and your facial expressions. They all play a huge role in how your audience perceives you and your presentation, especially as we are now embracing a hybrid world!
Below are our tips to help ensure you are giving the right message when it comes to your facial expressions, so you don’t lose any engagement with your audience members or miss an opportunity to connect with them.
Why are facial expressions important?
Facial expressions are vital when it comes to communicating.
During a presentation, your audience depend on your facial expressions to enhance the meaning of what you are saying. This is especially true when presenting virtually as the audience sees a close-up view of your face, so you need to be aware of your expressions now more than ever!
Congruency is key – you must make sure what you are saying matches what your body and face are portraying.
Practice, practice, practice!
If you struggle with facial expressions, a quick tip is to make emoji faces! As crazy as it sounds, practising the emoji expressions once or twice a day will help to relax your facial muscles. Try practising the 7 universally recognised facial expressions:
Another way to practice your facial expressions is to give your whole presentation in front of a mirror without speaking. Just let your face do all the communicating. You will be amazed at how expressive you are the next time you practice normally!
Your default expression
Do you know what your ‘default’ facial expression is? This is your expression when you are not particularly thinking of anything, and your facial muscles are likely to be relaxed. Do you look miserable, happy, or neutral?
If you are not sure, have a look in the rear view mirror the next time you are stuck at traffic lights in the car – you might be surprised. If you are not happy with your default expression, try just raising the corners of your mouth slightly which will give you a pleasant default face.
Positive facial expressions
Researchers have found that your facial expression can influence your emotional experience, so if you look happy, you start to feel happy!
The next time you give a presentation, whether it’s in-person, virtual, or hybrid, try to include the following facial expressions to give a positive experience to your audience:
Smile – A smile shows you are friendly, approachable, and welcoming. Always start the presentation with a smile to help the audience warm to you. Make sure the smile is genuine and it reaches your eyes. Then, give a smile when it’s appropriate to do so during the presentation. However, do not smile the whole way through as this is seen as being fake (and a bit creepy!).
Eye contact – Direct eye contact shows that you are confident, and trustworthy. When presenting, try to look one person in the eye for about 5 seconds, then move on to another person. Try to keep it as random as possible. Do not keep sweeping your eyes from one side of the room to the other. If presenting virtually to a camera, make sure you look directly into the camera itself as this will give your virtual audience the impression of direct eye contact with them.
Look up – During your Q+A session, after a member of the audience has asked a question, move your eyes upwards briefly, as though in a thoughtful pose. This will give the impression you are giving their question some serious thought before answering.
Having said that, if you are genuinely giving their question serious thought (which we strongly recommend you do), you will most likely find yourself making this gesture automatically.
Nodding – When dealing with questions, comments, or feedback from your audience, nod your head as you listen to them. This lets the audience know they have your attention and that you are fully engaged with them.
Caveat; do not nod too much or too quickly, either can unwittingly give the other person the impression that you want them to hurry up.
Facial expressions to avoid
Just as the expressions above will help give a positive vibe to your audience, the following expressions will quickly turn the experience into a negative one:
Scowling – A furrowed brow, downturned mouth, and avoidance of eye contact shows dissatisfaction or disagreement with what is being communicated.
Pursed lips – Keep your mouth relaxed with your lips slightly upturned or in a neutral position. Pursing the lips could give the impression you disapprove, or don’t trust the person who is talking.
Rapid blinking – Keep your blinking under control – blinking more rapidly gives the impression you are distressed or uncomfortable.
Prolonged eye contact – Although we do recommend eye contact with people in your audience, prolonged eye contact, or staring, can be seen as threatening. If, however, you are presenting virtually, then holding prolonged eye contact directly into the camera when addressing your listeners is considered good practice.
Nose – Try to refrain from touching your nose, mouth or chin when presenting. This could be seen as a sign of insecurity and is perceived as negative by your audience.
Using the tips above in your next in-person, virtual, or hybrid presentation will enhance the experience of your audience. By paying attention to your own facial expressions and body language, as well as that of others will help you to improve your overall presentation and communication skills.