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  • Writer's pictureMike Carr

5 Presentation Warm-ups: Start with your Face

I was standing at our little New Year's Eve party and I watched them fall in love. We had been hoping it would happen, but at that moment it was obvious from just the slight adjustment of her face: the way her nose wrinkled, the way her eyes softened, the way she looked at him. We knew she was in love.

We were watching "When Harry Met Sally." If you haven't seen some of Meg Ryan's iconic movies lately, it's worth going back and watching her in "When Harry Met Sally" or "You've Got Mail" or "Sleepless in Seattle." There is a certain thing that she does with her nose. It is the visual representation of the quote, "Awwwww."

Her performances are important to communicators because she reminds us how much can be communicated by your face, the slight nuances that can happen and the authenticity it projects. As a speaker, you can take your storytelling to the next level by focusing on the nuanced changes in your face. This is especially true in a virtual presentation when you're right up in the camera and you can have a very intimate conversation. But it will be as true in the world following the pandemic when virtual will still be a strong part of public speaking. In live public speaking, increasingly there are screens behind you that show your audience the up-close of your speaking. Even if the camera isn't zoomed right in on your face, there are subconscious signals that are perceived by every audience member just based on a slight change in your face.

That's why it is as important for speakers to warm up our faces as it is to warm up our voices. I would recommend the following five steps before stepping in front of your next audience:

1. Make all kinds of crazy faces in rapid succession.

Facial expressions are just like physical gestures – they always feel bigger to the speaker than they seem to the audience. A good way to give room to your psyche in order to make expressions that are significant enough for your audience to notice is to warm up by making huge, big gestures with your face. You stretch it wide. You open your mouth as wide as it can and make as many shapes with it as you can. You curl your lips, raise your eyebrows, flare your nostrils, wrinkle your nose and forehead as extreme as you can. These movements feel so exaggerated in warm-up that when you appropriately raise an eyebrow or open your mouth wide during your talk, it will not feel overexaggerated.

2. Don’t forget your tongue.

This may sound weird, but don’t forget to exercise your tongue. When most of us warm-up our voices it’s volume, pace, and pitch. We don’t exercise the one piece of our machinery that makes our speech sound crisp and alert versus mushy and tired. So stick your tongue out as far as you can. And then pull it all the way to the right. And then all the way to the left. Roll it around your wide-open mouth and curl it as much as you can. I know this might feel like you are auditioning for a nasty movie, but it will mean a ton of difference for your speaking clarity. It also has the added benefit of strengthening the muscles underneath your chin and along the top front of your neck.

3. Don’t forget your eyes.

Your eyes are arguably the most expressive part of your face because humans naturally look for eyes. Open your eyes as wide as you can. Roll your eyes all the way to extremes looking right and left quickly without turning your head. Squint your eyes shut. Smile broadly focusing on “smiling with your eyes.”

4. Don’t forget your neck.

Most of the time we don’t think about our neck when we talk about the face but so much can be communicated just by the cock of a head, or the turning to the side and looking back at your audience. If your neck is loose and fluid, it projects health and vibrancy to your audience and a lack of nervousness.

5. Work your shoulders.

Another forgotten part of a communicator’s “face,” are the shoulders. In any visual frame you will be in as a speaker, your shoulders will almost always be visible. To warm them, shrug them tightly, then drop them loose. Move one forward and then back as far as you can, and then the other. Roll them forward and then backward. I once saw a speaker who added tons of interesting nonverbal communication to her speech just by the combination of the way she would cock her head and dip a shoulder forward to emphasize a funny statement she just made. Your shoulders can be immensely expressive.

You may not remember what Meg Ryan did in her movies, but many people walk away talking about how she made them feel, especially about her. You, likewise, can increase the level of emotion in your speaking by working on the nuances of your face. We'll talk more in the future about ways that you can work on telling a story through your face non-verbally, but for today, a good way to level up your speaking is to make sure that you have warmed up your face before you next step in front of a live or virtual audience.

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