Know Your Resting Face

Benefits of Public Speaking - Smiling Speaker

Our resting face is the facial expression we make most often. It is our facial expression default, a non-verbal communication conveyed via one of our most powerful body language delivery mechanisms – the face. Speakers and leaders need to be mindful and aware of how they are using the face to their advantage or lack there of. If we want to engage our audience, lead our peers or persuade our superiors – we need to master our resting face. Before we explore this at greater length lets look at the science behind its importance.

When we first meet people, they form a near instantaneous impression of us. They make assumptions based upon external factors such as our facial expression, body language, voice and many other attributes. All happens in a blink of eye and these new friends (or sometimes unfortunate foes) assume they have ‘sized us up’. A recent scientific study from New York University details this phenomena perfectly. This study revealed that in less than a blink of an eye, people make unconscious assessments of others. Researchers in this study monitored the amygdala (emotional center of the brain) of participants who were presented with pictures of a variety of human faces. In a mere 33 milliseconds, participants in the study indicated whether they trusted the face (and the person behind it) – a period so short it excluded conscious insight. The study details a variety of factors such as facial structure, expression, eyes, etc. that influence our assessment of them. Now that we understand why our resting face is important, let’s explore how to optimize it.

Know Your Resting Face

Many novice students who come to our public speaking & leadership training sessions and seminars are unaware that they have an issue with non-verbal communication. For example, most novice speakers deal with glossophobia (the fear of public speaking) and therefore their resting face can look stressed and anxious. Their resting face is often stressed or anxious and they rarely smile. The same issue exists for the fledgling leader. Many times the stresses of the day get to him or her and they show it in a fatigued facial expression. Unfortunately, in most cases, these individuals are unaware that they are even showing a less than optimal resting face. They erroneously believe that their facial expression is serving the outcome they intend; when it is not. Now that we understand some of the issues speakers and leaders have with resting face let’s explore how we can optimize it in our communication scenarios.

Check In

One of the most critical skills with optimizing our resting face is being able to acknowledge our actual day to day resting face. There are a few ways to do this that we’ll explore them below.

  • Use a Mirror
    Practice ‘checking in’ with how you feel and taking a look in the mirror. What does your resting face say? Is it warm and welcoming or does it depict stress or anxiety.
  • Record Yourself
    Record yourself (or have a friend do so) while speaking & leadership situations. Review it and take some notes on your resting face. What does your resting face convey and is it serving your needs or impeding you?
  • Ask a Friend
    A great way to gain an awareness of your resting face habits is to ask a friend. Ask them to observe you over a span of time with a focus on what your most common facial expression is. Ask them to give you honest feedback.

Practice Your Social Smile

If we have less than a second to create a favorable impression, shouldn’t we use this time wisely. What can we do as communicators, speakers and leaders is to enhance our positive impressions and outcomes? There is much research into the powerful effects of smiling. Smiling, even without a reason for doing so, can improve mood, reduce stress and generally make you more likable. The act of smiling changes both your emotional state and that of the other person you are communicating with – both for the better. There is really no downside to the practice of smiling. Am I saying you need to constantly smile to be effective? No. It’s not realistic to assume we can and even should always smile but adding it to your non-verbal communications and resting face is a distinct advantage. Authentically smiling should be a part of your resting face and something you practice. Smiling will make you have a more authentic influence upon others while making you more likable and approachable. So says numerous scientific studies.  To this I see no downside. Smile more, and improve your reception while speaking and leading. Now let’s see those pearly whites! =)

Joseph Guarino is a professional public speaker, trainer and owner of the Institute of Public Speaking a Boston based international public speaking & leadership training organization. As a seasoned public speaking trainer & professional speaker he enjoys helping other succeed in this worthy and rewarding craft. The Institute of Public Speaking offers a variety of public speaking courses for individuals (1 on 1 training), executive speech coaching, one day public speaking bootcamps, advanced public speaking bootcamps and public speaking seminars for corporations & groups of any size.
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