Originally posted In Backstage Jan. 3, 2017, 11 a.m.
During my years in casting, I came to understand how challenging the reaction audition was for many actors. Whether theatrical or commercial, the reaction audition demands that you use your facial expressions to nonverbally communicate very specific messages to the viewer, which indicates how you feel or think about someone or something.
Although challenging for most, what I noticed was that there was a small group of actors who were very consistent at getting the callback and booking the job. In fact, they were the inspiration for my first book, “Acting: Face to Face,” referred to as “the five percent.”
Years of research ultimately led me to the following six things these actors did to increase their callback and booking ratio, and set them apart from the rest:
1. They make it real.
The top actors I studied had the ability to make their actions and reactions appear to be real. “Making it real” simply means that whatever they did or reacted to was infused with enough detail to make it look like real life.
Your reaction doesn’t stand alone; to get the callback and ultimately book the job, you must be skilled at executing the action and the reaction. In other words, you’re doing something (the action) and then something happens that makes you respond (the reaction) in a very real way.
2. They make it recognizable.
Your face is capable of making over 10,000 expressions. Many of them are meaningless, but those five percenters who always got callbacks and booked jobs? They intuitively knew how to choose the expressions that had meaning and were recognizable to all.
If they can’t recognize what’s on your face, how can they hire you?
3. They make it appropriate and adjustable.
The third thing the five percent did differently was to make their expressions appropriate. By appropriate, I mean that the reaction they created was based on what was happening in the material or from a direction. It made sense and had the proper intensity. If the reaction was too big or too small, they could adjust it.
Think about it: If your reaction is random, or the intensity is too big or small, it won’t make sense to the viewer and will seem inappropriate for what’s taking place.
READ: “How to Make Auditions Dynamic”
4. They have one reaction at a time.
Most often, actors will try to create a reaction by recalling a time they felt something analogous to the circumstances, then hope the correct reaction will appear on their face. As they do this, other thoughts can cross their minds and those additional thoughts are reflected on their faces.
Sometimes, those thoughts are accompanied by body movement. So even if the correct reaction is given, the extraneous movement of the face and body often makes the whole reaction too big, too busy, or unrecognizable.
The group I studied didn’t try to show multiple facial movements at the same time. They employed one recognizable, appropriate facial reaction at a time.
5. They make it repeatable.
I also noticed that the five percent actors could repeat the reaction they gave because they were very aware of what their faces were saying. The actors who had this ability were in alignment with what they were feeling and revealing, making them more capable of consistently repeating exactly what they did.
If you can't repeat what worked, odds are you aren’t going to book the job. And if you do happen to book, there’s a chance you could lose the job by not being able to repeat on set what you did in the audition.
6. They can do it on demand.
Finally, what those five percent actors were able to do was interpret material, make a choice, express that choice in a real, recognizable and appropriate way, and do it when asked. In other words, on demand. If they got an adjustment, they understood and executed it without losing any intensity or meaning.
If the reaction audition is a challenge for you, I suggest looking in your emotion toolbox to determine which of the skills here needs to be acquired and/or developed. Missing just one can be the difference between booking or not.
Mastering these six skills won’t guarantee entrance into the five percent club, but it does make you eligible for membership.
John Sudol is a bicoastal audition coach, speaker and founder of the Emotion Training Center, and a Backstage Expert. For more information, check out Sudol’s full bio.
Originally posted in Backstage July 11, 2016, 10 a.m.
Having the skill to create a complex emotional life and reveal it on your face, in a real, recognizable, and appropriate way is the ultimate goal of an on-camera actor.
Some actors seem to do this effortlessly while others struggle. If your emotional message fails to come across in the way you intend, there’s a good chance the answer can be found either in the way you’re attempting to evoke the emotion or in some kind of distortion taking place. For this article, I want to focus on the latter.
By distortion, I mean anything that interferes with the creating or revealing of what you intend. Although there are many reasons your emotional message may be distorted, the following seven are the most common and important to the on-camera actor.
1. Your face. For some people, the structure of their face resembles an emotion. For example, a low brow with deep-set eyes may look like anger. Or the pulling down of the corners of the lips might make a person appear sad. Having the appearance of emotion on your face can confuse the viewer by sending the wrong message or the wrong level of intensity.
2. How you are wired. Research shows that some people are born internalizers and others are externalizers. Externalizers are those people who show emotions on their faces, but have little change in their autonomic nervous system (ANS). Internalizers, on the other hand, tend to feel intensely (higher ANS response), while their faces remain blank.
Externalizers often hear things like, “Your face is too busy,” “You’re showing me what you feel,” or “You’re indicating.” Internalizers often hear things like, “I know you say you’re feeling it, but I’m not getting it,” or “It’s a lot easier to bring you down than it is to bring you up.”
3. The culture you in which you were raised in. Where you were raised plays a big part not only in how you display certain emotions, but also when and to what degree. Adhering to your cultural norms doesn’t mean that as an actor you’re not capable of experiencing a particular emotion. More than likely you’ve just been trained to control or modify it, and as a result, it wouldn’t be a choice you’d make. Why? Expressing it doesn’t feel right to you.
4. Family idiosyncrasies. Families are full of expression rules. Growing up, you may have me told to “Smile at the nice man,” so as a kid you learned the rule, and even though you didn’t particularly feel anything, you smiled at the nice man. Now as an adult, you may still be smiling at the nice man, whether you want to or not. Sometimes you may know you’re smiling, but a lot of the time, you don’t.
5. Your psychology. Experiences and observations over time can be responsible for how you perceive and react to a given event. These unique experiences and observations have created your beliefs. When something of importance happens in your life, these beliefs clue you in on how you should behave, what you should think, and even how you should feel. These beliefs are often responsible for what an actor is willing or not willing to emotionally reveal.
6. How you listen. Literal versus inferential. This is how you take in information. Literal listeners take the things they hear at face value and don’t read anything into what is said. They take the words very literally. Inferential listeners, on the other hand, will try to work out what they think was meant by what was said, put their own interpretation on it, and often assume it implies some action that needs to be taken by them.
7. Inappropriate triggers. This is unknowingly choosing stimuli that is inappropriate for what is taking place. Consciously you believe you feel one way, but unconsciously you feel something else. You might believe you were angry about a breakup, but the truth is you really feel sad. So while you’re focusing on what you think will make you angry, your face is revealing the truth about how you really feel.
Distortions are not about being truthful or honest. They are about our wiring and well-ingrained habits that distort the truth. They are insidious and most often misdiagnosed. If you have found that although you feel connected to the emotional experience, there is often a significant difference between what you’re feeling and what your face is expressing, I suggest you begin exploring any one of these distortions.
Having an awareness and gaining the necessary tools to compensate and/or adjust is the first step in overcoming them and getting your emotional message across in the way you intend.
Article originally posted on Backstage May 4, 2016
Facial movements and emotional expressions are like the words you speak. If used arbitrarily, expressed out of context, or delivered with the wrong expression, you run the risk of being seen as untruthful, dishonest, too busy, or even worse...a face actor!
With shows such as “Lie to Me” and the breakout film “Inside Out,” awareness of what emotions feel and look like on the face is reaching the masses, and proving to be a must-know for all on-camera actors.
Here’s the first thing you need to know about emotions: Based on the latest scientific research, people anywhere on the planet will recognize surprise, fear, anger, disgust, contempt, happiness, and sadness. They’re considered universal because we’re all hardwired to express each one of these emotions with the same specific facial muscle groups or muscle patterns. For example, anger involves three muscle groups: the brows are pulled down and together, the upper eyelids are raised and/or lower eyelids are tensed, and the lips are tightened.
Understanding emotions and what they look and feel like on your face is the first step to speaking this emotional facial language. The following is a quick overview of the 7 ways your face expresses emotion, thought, and feeling that will have the biggest impact on your on-camera acting.
Macro expressions are more emotionally intense than other kinds of expressions and often involve your whole face. They are expressed with all the muscle groups of that emotion. For example, the macro expression of anger would involve all three of the muscle groups that I mentioned a moment ago.
This type of expression appears on your face when you are either unable to manage, or find that there is no need to manage or hide the emotion in any way. When an emotion is expressed in the macro, there is no doubt to the viewer what you’re feeling.
These are the fleeting emotional facial expressions. They are expressed with the same muscle groups as the macro, however, they are very quick. Micro expressions can also be seen as “emotional leakage.” Executed correctly, these expressions can give insight to what your character is feeling, but for whatever reason, is trying to conceal. If you were trying to conceal your anger, you may see leakage of it flashing from the mouth, brows, or eyes.
These expressions occur when you’re just starting to feel an emotion, the emotional response is of lower intensity, or when you’re trying to manage or cover up an intense emotion. The same muscle groups in the macro expression of the emotion will be involved, but expressed with either fewer muscle groups, contraction, expansion, or tension, which makes them smaller. So, the subtle expression of anger may only involve the brows, eyes, or just the mouth.
Not all recognizable facial expressions are emotional. Some are cognitive, emblematic, or used to punctuate your words.
Cognitive. This refers to thinking. If the task is difficult or perplexing, confusing, or needs increased focus, changes will occur on the face. For example, the brows may pull in and down, or there may be more tension in the eyes as you focus in on something. Perhaps you may press your lips together or jut your jaw out slightly. Since all of these changes can be found in the anger family, this is why you may look angry when all you’re doing is thinking.
Emblems. These are facial signals that are culturally recognized. They could be anything from a wink of the eye to the quick flicking of the eyebrow as a sign of acknowledgment. When you lift your brows up and hold them, it is an emblem for questioning or doubt.
Emotional emblems. They look like the facial expression of the emotion, but they’re not. One of the uses of emotional emblems is to share with someone what you felt or will feel about something. For example, you’re telling a friend that you have to see your accountant about taxes. At the end of the sentence, you tense and stretch your lips back and down. You are flashing them the emblem of fear.
Punctuate. We also use our face to punctuate words in the same way we might use our hands. Lifting your brow or widening your eyes can bring focus to a point you’re making. Unlike emblems, these facial movements are there to comment on what you’re saying. They can add a question mark, exclamation point, quotation marks, or a period to our speech. Over-punctuating your words is the top way to be pegged as a face or eyebrow actor.
Here’s something to think about. There are three channels of nonverbal emotional communication: body, voice, and face. Stage acting only requires that you have control over two: body and voice, whereas on-camera acting requires that you have all three.
It’s having the skill to clearly and authentically speak this emotional facial language that defines you as an on-camera actor. Knowing how your face communicates is the first step to insuring that your emotional messages are read in the way you intend.
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John Sudol is a bicoastal audition coach, speaker and founder of the Emotion Training Center, and a Backstage Expert. For more information, check out Sudol’s full bio.
To set up a free 20 minute consultation with John click HERE
This post was originally posted in Backstage 3/17/2016
Should nonverbal communication be studied and added to your emotion communication toolbox?
The answer is an overwhelming yes. Nonverbal communication makes up anywhere from 65–95 percent of our communication. An audition requiring only a reaction from you brings it to 100 percent. Since we are in the communication business, it makes sense that all actors master this nonverbal language.
It’s what you’re not saying within the silence that often speaks the loudest. A slight clamping and lifting of the corner of the lip can send a message of contempt or skepticism. The rate of blinking can suggest interest, hostility, or distress. Your scent, what you’re wearing, and your posture are all sending messages and are interpreted by casting. It’s this nonverbal information that differentiates the skilled actor from the unskilled or unprepared.
The nonverbal information we send out through our body, voice, face, and appearance is called “nonverbal behaviors.” Nonverbal behaviors spring from our attitudes, cultural upbringing, and are reactions to things we deem to be important to our well-being either in a positive or negative way.
The following is a quick overview of eight types of unspoken communication and behaviors that you can use as a checklist and reminder for your next audition.
1. Your face. The majority of your nonverbal communication will come from your facial expressions. Some facial expressions are just random muscle movement without meaning and only serve to confuse the viewer. However, facial expressions associated with surprise, fear, happiness, sadness, anger, disgust, and contempt are universally recognized. Used appropriately, they inform the viewer what you are feeling at any given moment. Some facial reactions are also used for punctuating words or phrases, such as raising your eyebrows to comment on how big something really was.
2. Your hands. Movements that express some kind of thought or process of thinking are calledgestures. Some gestures occur with speech, such as using your fingers when counting out loud or perhaps to emphasize a word or phrase. Others, like pointing or waving, are recognizable without words. Gestures are expressed primarily with your hands, however, can occur in the head, body, or even your face. This may include nodding your head “yes,” a shoulder shrug implying that you “don’t know,” or a wink of the eye suggesting “game on.”
3. Your voice. Vocal communication separate from the actual words you speak is referred to as paralinguistics. This includes tone of voice, volume, inflection, and pitch. It can also include yawns, laughs, grunts, and pauses. Consider the powerful effect your tone of voice can have on the meaning of a sentence. When said in a strong tone of voice, listeners might interpret approval and enthusiasm. The same words said in a hesitant tone might convey lack of interest or confidence.
4. Your body. Unlike facial expressions, body language doesn’t tell us what emotion you’re feeling, but rather, how well you’re coping with the emotion felt. Things that we find frightening or distasteful, we tend to move away from. Heavy swallowing or licking your lips, touching your hair or sprawling out on a couch can be signs of stress, interest, or feelings of superiority.
5. Personal space. The amount of distance we need and the amount of space we perceive as belonging to us is referred to as proxemics. The amount of space you or your character needs is influenced by a number of factors including social norms, situational factors, personality characteristics, and level of familiarity. Just a slight moving in towards your partner, reader, or the camera can enhance intimacy.
6. Your eyes. Looking, staring, and blinking, also known as eye gaze, is an important nonverbal cue. When people encounter people or things that they like, the rate of blinking increases and pupils dilate. On the other hand, when angered, the gaze gets harder and the blink rate will decrease or stop completely. An increase in the blink rate for no apparent reason sends a clear message that you are either not prepared, not connected, or experiencing high anxiety.
7. Your touch. Communicating through touch is known as haptics. It’s another important nonverbal behavioral cue to think about. Touch can be used to communicate a range of information and feelings such as affection, familiarity, sympathy, desire, etc.
8. Your look. The choice of color, clothing, hairstyles, and other factors affecting how you look fall under the category of appearance. Appearance can also alter physiological reactions, judgments, and interpretations. Just think of all the subtle judgments you quickly make about someone based on his or her appearance. The first impression you make in your audition is important and lasting.
It’s how you react to an event or situation—your attitude or behavior under certain circumstances—that makes your performance memorable. When chosen and layered appropriately into your audition, any one of these eight nonverbal behaviors can bring more depth, colors, and meaning to your actions, reactions, and the words you speak.
Like this advice? Check out more from our Backstage Experts!
John Sudol is a bicoastal audition coach, speaker and founder of the Emotion Training Center. He is known to many actors around the world as the “go-to emotion specialist.” Sudol’s expertise is in emotional facial communication, he’s written two books on emotional communication: “Acting: Face to Face,” the actors guide to understanding how your face communicates emotion for TV and film, and “Acting: Face to Face 2,” how to create genuine emotion for the TV and film.
Visit www.languageoftheface.com for more information, and follow Sudol on Twitter@johnsudolstudio and Facebook. To schedule a free 20-minute consultation, email firstname.lastname@example.org .
Celebrated acting and business coach and author John Sudol launches second book. Hollywood, CA. December 28, 2015.
Now available in paperback through Amazon (http://tinyurl.com/hpv3k32) and Kindle ebook (http://tinyurl.com/gut33pr).
Acting: Face to Face II tells the story from both sides of the face communication story. It shows why people are so frequently misread by others because faces often conflict with the seven universally recognized emotional expressions (i.e. – happiness, sadness, fear, anger, contempt, disgust, and worry).
“Regardless if you’re a performer auditioning for that new part on a hot network show or if you’re heading a fresh startup in Silicon Valley or if you’re trying your hand at speed dating, everyone stands to benefit from this information. It’s paramount to understand that your face, and the messages it communicates consciously and subconsciously, is your brand. Your brand of person. Your brand of professional,” explained Sudol.
Acting: Face to Face II is a must-read for anyone looking to improve their communication skills. Based bi-coastally, Sudol is a regularly featured expert in leading industry publications such as Forbes and Backstage.
For more information on his teaching and/or to follow the launch of Face to Face II, please visit: www.languageoftheface.com
For all inquiries, please write to: email@example.com.
The key to dynamic and engaging listening will ultimately rest in your understanding and the executing of microexpressions. Microexpressions are quick flashes of strong feeling that you consciously or unconsciously try to suppress. In acting terms we can also call microexpressions “emotional leakage”.
Emotional leakage is the result of trying to manage a strong feeling. It’s important to note, you can't manage what you aren't feeling. In other words, you have to create a strong enough emotional life first.
In my book, Acting: Face to Face, I challenged the belief “just thinking the thought” will lead you to an expression. I proposed “a thought not connected to a strong enough idea or opinion will never result in a facial expression. However, a facial expression without a thought is an acting lie”. (Click link to Tweet)
Listening and reacting authentically and truthfully requires you to have a strong opinion to what you're hearing. What you have to keep in mind is, no opinion — no truthful reaction. Too many opinions and your face becomes too busy. In other words you must have selection and connection. You must carefully select what you choose to react to, build a history that supports why you are reacting to it and connect to that history, bringing it as close to you as it is to your character. Doing this ensures that you’re reacting with the same level of intensity as your character. It’s what makes you a more dynamic and engaging storyteller.
Here’s what you need to think about. Unlike life, where we have very little control over what we feel and what we reveal, as an on-camera actor you are the artist. You are creating the emotional experience. This means, you have to make the conscious choice to let what you’re feeling leak out when appropriate to do so. It’s what gives the viewer deeper and greater insight to your character and moves the story along.
Like I often say to my actors, you can't manage what you haven't created thereby you can’t leak what you don’t feel. (Click link to Tweet)
I saw this video and thought what a great example of listening with a strong opinion. Check this video out and see how John Boehner leaks his strong opinions about President Obama and what the President is saying. Watch for leakage of contempt, disgust and irritation. Pay especially close attention to the timing of Boehner’s reactions and how he tries to manage his real feelings with a lot of tongue wagging and cheek rubbing. I think it is simply hysterical and a great learning tool. Can you read his mind?
Let me hear your thoughts. What’s your most memorable scene where you are captivated by the way an actor is listening?
If you're in NOLA Attend a Free Seminar "Understanding the Secret Language Your Face Speaks"
Does creativity and suffering have to go together? Does artistry have to end in anguish? These are questions I know I have pondered over the years. In the video below, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the book and blockbuster hit "Eat, Pray, Love," delves into the trenches of the creative journey of an artist and explains how to stay one step ahead of the world's perception of "artists".
She takes us back in time and touches on the "little fairies, trolls and things" assigned to help you on the journey of cultivating and mastering your craft, while also sharing insight as to the fear that so many individuals realize as they are putting their whole heart and being into "the next big project." She is witty, fun and charming, yet straight to the point as she shares her experiences, her passion and her love in giving the world a part of her that has been destined to be shared.
So, after viewing this video, here are some things to think about.
Are you taking too much responsibility for your success or for your failures?
How do you protect yourself from yourself?
Finally, how do you protect yourself from those who for one reason or another are unable to handle or get a grip on their own desires or creativity, so instead, they pay way too much attention to yours?
Share your thoughts -
If you walk into your next audition and they asked you to go through a series of very small reactions of determination, sadness, concern, determination or even fear, would you know exactly how to create and express them?
Maybe you've been out on an audition like this. How'd you do?
If you understand emotions and how they are expressed, you're probably smiling, because you know that this is exactly the type of audition you nail. If you don’t, then you are more than likely throwing you're hands up in the air in frustration.
Sometimes the reactions they are asking for can be so small you barely recognize them as emotions, but they are. These brief emotional releases are known as micro expressions and every actor should have them in their emotional toolbox.
“Micro-expressions” are fleeting emotional facial expressions that last between 1/25th and 1/15th of a second. They occur when a person consciously or unconsciously is attempting to cover up a real emotion they are experiencing.
For on-camera actors, micro expressions can be seen as “emotional leakage”. They are much too quick and subtle for stage work, however, if done correctly, can bring color and an added dimension to your audition and performance.
For an example of what I’m talking about, take a look at this very cool Jaguar commercial to see how advertising is now using micro expressions to sell products.
It's an excellent example of an upscale brand understanding how to speak to their professional target with a real new, interesting, yet educational message. Ad-execs, directors, casting, are all counting on actors to have the skill to express the most subtle expressions of emotion.
The message here is simple. Everyday you are seeing audition notices asking for the actor to have the ability to be good with subtle facial expressions. If you have the skill to reveal real and recognizable emotions from the most subtle to the extreme, you’ve got a shot at booking a spot like the one you will see below.
Let me know your thoughts...
To Check out other reactions you should have in your toolbox, check out my last blog.
Before I tell you about the 2 reactions you must have in your Emotional Toolbox, I want to make sure we're clear about a few things. Such as, what do we react to and why as well as, how reactions are expressed.
WHAT DO WE REACT TO
Simply put, reactions are triggered by specific opinions, beliefs, sensations or feelings about someone or something. The stronger the opinion, belief, feeling, sensation, potentially, the more intense the reaction. There are 2 important things you have to determine when you are breaking down the spot or listening to the explanation in the audition -
1. What specifically are you reacting to? and
2. Why are you reacting to it?
In other words, what is your opinion, belief, sensation or feeling about what's taking place?
HOW REACTIONS ARE EXPRESSED
Nonverbal Reactions can be express through 3 channels; the body, voice and the face. Since I'm focusing on the emotional facial reaction, here's a little backstory on the face. Your face has 43 muscles and capable of making over 10,000 unique facial expressions. Around 8,000 of those expressions are related to emotions and some related to sensations, such as; pain and pleasure. That's a lot of expressions for you, the actor, to concern yourself with when you are concerning yourself with creating truthfully and in the moment. The good news is, you don't have to.
Much of the emotional facial expressions we see in commercials are quickly recognizable because they spring from the
7 Universal Emotions: Surprise, Contempt, Disgust, Anger, Happy, Sad and Fear or combination of them. What changes from spot to spot is, context and intensity.
2 GAMES CHANGING REACTIONS TO KNOW
Watch the Hershey spot below. The 2 reactions the actors have to the taste of the Hershey Spread are excitement and pleasure. You'll recognize the excitement (right Photo) by the slight widening of the eyes and the pleasure (left Photo) by the relaxing of the eye lids and soft focus of the eyes or eyes rolling up.
The same excitement and pleasure will be in so many of your commercial auditions. Again, what will change is the context and intensity. They may be asking to see your excitement as mom brings in the turkey or the pleasure you get from smelling your freshly clean sheets. So whether you're excited about turkey or chocolate spread the same emotional facial reaction would be appropriate for both.
I know from my many years of casting that these 2 reactions absolutely need to be in every commercial actor's toolbox. I also know that the majority of the actors auditioning for a spot like this would think, ahhh "bite and smile". However, what if the client doesn't want you to smile at all? Where do you go there? Now you know you have an alternative to just bite and smile.
SUMMING IT ALL UP
Knowing how to trigger these reactions can give you an edge in your next reaction audition. Want to know what else is cool about these 2 reactions? If the trigger is strong enough, both of these reaction can organically trigger the emotion of happy. There's were your genuine smile comes from.
Check out the video and see just how each actor reacts to what they're tasting. See how the excitement and/or pleasure in each Hershey bite is what makes the spot work.
I hope this Reaction Tip helps you in your next food, candy, beverage, or any tasting audition.
I'm excited for you!!
Now, let me know how it goes...
Don't forget to "Like" Tweet" or leave a "comment"... Share... it feels so good!
The following post is from an Interview I did with Carol Kinsey Goman whose Leadership column is featured in Forbes.
When Carol asked me if she could review Acting: Face to Face and interview me, needless to say, I was excited
and also a little confused. At first I didn't know why the corporate and business world would be interested in
what is primarily an acting book. Actually, I take that back. I wasn't confused. I knew all along, whether an
actor, corporate leader, sales person or entrepreneur, the one thing in common is, we are all in the face to face
business and we all share a common goal. We want our communication to be clear, honest, open and authentic.
The question to be asked now is...
What is your face saying to others without you knowing?
By Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D
You have probably never heard of it, but one of the best leadership books I’ve read recently is “Acting: Face to Face” by John Sudol. Although written for the television and motion picture actors that John coaches, his advice is surprisingly applicable for business leaders. So I was delighted when John agreed to this interview.
Carol: While reading your book, I found so many similarities between the actors you work with and the executives I coach. For example, in an acting audition or job interview, your emotions (and subsequently your performance) can get high-jacked by the way others react to you.
John: For actor and business professionals alike, one of the things that can throw you off a well-prepared game plan might surprise you. It’s the interviewer’s face. Your brain quickly assesses and makes some snap judgments about what you read on another’s face. We’ve all met people, that for some unknown reason, we immediately have warm feelings toward. They tend to make us smile and draw us to them. We’ve also all encountered people we instantly felt were potentially hostile, arrogant, bored or aloof. In an interview or audition, what you read on the interviewer’s face can provoke a variety of unwanted feelings and thoughts, such as: anxiety, self-doubt, and insecurity. If enough stress is produced it can trigger a limbic response and put you into a freeze-fight-or-flee state.
Carol: It’s amazing how powerful those first few seconds can be. You are reading the interviewer’s facial expressions and body language as he/she is reading yours. You are both making instantaneous assessments that can make or break the entire meeting.
John: Depending on how you handle the unexpected rush of emotion, in a blink of an eye, you can be on your way down the proverbial rabbit hole. Your thoughts become scattered. You can’t remember the interviewer’s name, your own name, your breath quickens, your voice goes weak and before you know it, you’ve forgotten what you planned to do and start saying and doing things you never intended to say or do. Since this emotional response to someone’s face is hardwired in our brain and can come on quickly, I tell my actors they need to be prepared for it to happen. By this I mean, they need to be mindful of the game-throwing changes occurring in their bodies that seem to happen for no apparent reason during those first few moments of the initial greeting.
Carol: Good advice. I worked with a client recently who said that she took immediately felt rejected – and the interview hadn’t even started. For both the actor and the business professional, having an ability to read emotional expressions on people’s faces and not react to them can be a powerful advantage.
John: By spotting the emotional patterns ahead of time you can prepare yourself for the feelings that will surely arise. I believe that when we view another’s face from a place of (inner) security, we know that what’s on their face is about them. When we read it from our own insecurities we tend to think that what is on their face is about us.
In my own life I’ve adopted the mantra “What’s on their face is not about me!” These words have saved me numerous of times when speaking in large rooms looking out and seeing facial billboards flashing judgment, criticism, boredom, doubt, suspicion. Most often, and ironically, those are the very same people who will approach, contact or email me after the lecture thanking me for my work and their favorable experience in the audience that day! Again, “what’s on their face is not about me!”
Carol: We are in the midst of a visual technology revolution, and more and more professionals are meeting “face-to-face” through Facetime, Skype, Google Hangouts, or video-conferencing. I tell executives that when their verbal messages are out of alignment with their nonverbal signals, audiences are forced to choose between the two. And almost always, the viewer will consciously or unconsciously (a “gut feeling”) believe what they see and not what you say. There must be a lot that business professionals can learn from actors who have been using visual mediums their entire careers. How do audiences “read” an actor’s facial expressions — and what does that mean to people in the business world?
John: According to the work of Dr. Paul Ekman and many other leading researchers in the field of emotions, there are 7 Universal Emotions: Surprise, Anger, Fear, Sadness, Joy, Disgust and Contempt. (There are far more emotions than these 7, however these 7 have been confirmed by Ekman’s research to be the only ones that are universally recognized.) What makes them recognizable is, each emotion has its own set of muscle groups or muscle patterns unique to that emotion.
When an audience watches a talented actor, they pick up both the overt and subtle muscle changes in the actor’s face, as well as changes in the body and the voice. If the muscle changes they see are associated with one or more of the universal emotions, the audience, whether knowing of these emotions, consciously or not, senses them. If these changes fit the context of the movie, meaning the situation the character is in or the characters’ history, they make sense to the viewer and they continue to watch with ease. However, if they are not contextually fitting or distracting, the viewer begins to question the actor’s skill level or character consistency.
The same conditions also apply to business communication. During a video conference, a participant’s face is usually the center of attention and as a result it is under sharp scrutiny. The person viewing may not consciously pick up the subtle changes in somone’s face, however more often than not they are influenced by them. That’s because our eyes are usually taking in more information than we are aware of, and we are responding to this input. For the actor or the business professional, understanding emotions and what they feel and look like on your face can open the door to greater personal and professional results, more engaging interactions, and successful collaborations with others.
Carol: How do audiences spot a “lie” in an actor’s performance — and how does this same process make it difficult for leaders to convince an employee audience?
John: An actor’s goal is to achieve deception. He lives in an imagined world and passes it off to the viewer as the real one. To bring his audience into his imagined world with the hopes of achieving deception, he must understand, relate and be emotionally inspired by his imagine world as well as be emotionally available with a keen eye and hand for detail.
Although a business presenter’s world is real, there are similarities with the actor’s world. If a presenter doesn’t
understand, relate or is emotionally inspired by what he’s talking about, motivating and inspiring others may be very difficult.
Whether an actor or presenter, the goal for both is to appear truthful. To be believed, all actions, reactions, and the words expressed must appear to be real, recognizable, and appropriate for whatever topic being expressed or the situation taking place. However, neither will appear to be truthful, if the actions, reactions, and words are not expressed with the appropriate: timing, intensity and duration. If an action or reaction starts too soon or too late, it will either appear to be a lie or have a different meaning. If the emotion intensity too strong or too weak, we will be unsure of how he really feels if he feels anything at all. If the emotion starts too soon or ends too quick, the truth of what he’s feeling will be questioned. And if the audience doesn’t recognize what’s on the actor’s or presenter’s face, or if it doesn’t seem appropriate for the situation, or if the timing in which emotion appears or disappears is off in any way, they are less likely to embrace what either the actor or presenter has to offer.
Carol: You also talk about “emotional distortions” and how they interfere with good acting. I see a direct link to effective leadership communication.
John: I define distortions as anything that interferes with the creating or the revealing of what we intend. For an actor or a business leader, there are many reasons why an intended communication breaks down. Sometimes we have an awareness of it, however, most of the time we don’t. In my book, I outlined seven distortions including: your own face, how you are wired to express, your culture, family idiosyncrasies, your psychology, inappropriate emotional triggers, and how you listen.
John: Your face may be speaking to others in ways that can become a distortion in two ways, which I will refer to as “static” or “default.”
How your face is structured (the static face) can be responsible for the appearance of emotion even when you’re not particularly feeling anything at all. For some people, their face resembles an emotion. For example, a low brow, deep-set eyes or thin lips may look like anger. The pulling down of the corners of the lips might make a person appear to be sad. Arched eyebrows may be responsible for the skeptical look on your face. Or, the deep folds on the side of your nose makes you appear to be disapproving. Your static face is often the result of your age, ethnicity, and emotional history. If people often ask you if you’re upset about something or if they think you may not like them, I suggest looking at your static face. Your “static face” is about the structure of your face that you may or may not have much control over.
The face you go to for comfort or security is what I call the default face. It’s a face most of us learned a long time ago. For one reason or another, the face you learned to put on makes you feel differently about yourself. For example, if you didn’t want everyone to know you were frightened, you might’ve covered it by displaying some of the muscles groups in the anger family. Or maybe in an attempt to hide your insecurities, you learned to bring in the muscle group for contempt so you would feel that you were above it all. Although your default face may bring you comfort or security, others are defining you by it… intolerant, bitch, victim, sarcastic, pompous, etc.
Carol: With corporate clients, I tell them that in an initial meeting, they have less than seven seconds to make a first (and surprisingly lasting) impression – and much of that impression will depend on how people react to their face. I also find that most business leaders have no idea of how their static and default faces are interpreted by others.
John: With actors, the first thing I do with them is a face reading. Knowing what your face is saying to others is powerful information. If people consistently misinterpret, what you feel, your intentions or even your intelligence, the first distortion I would investigate is what your face is saying.
Carol: John, this has been great. Thank you so much!
About the Author: Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., is a keynote speaker, leadership communication consultant, body language coach, and author of ”The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt – How You Lead” and ”The Truth About Lies in the Workplace: How to Spot Liars and What to Do about Them.” Carol can reached by email: CGoman@CKG.com, phone: 510-526-1727, or through her website: www.CKG.com.
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Author, Coach, Speaker
John is known to actors around the world as the Go-To Emotion Specialist.
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