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As an attorney, does your face say what you want it to while communicating? Does it say anything at all? The eyes may be the window to your soul, but is the rest of your face acting like a door? A workshop attendee once told me that I said a lot with my face. I took that as a great compliment. However, it isn’t something that I do naturally. My nature is to be somewhat stoic and dry; I’m an introvert. (Sometimes I feel like that is an admission of a serious shortcoming.) But when I present, coach and train, I know that that dryness will not serve me well. Lawyers, too, struggle with facial animation. Here are some common facial faux pas: Ben Stein Stoicism: The well-known actor and comedian (and speechwriter and lawyer in the Nixon White House) is easily recognized for his deadpan style. A face like his is one only a mother could love. Unfortunately, too many speakers (me included if I’m not attentive) have a similar style when presenting. The result? An audience or jury that is, at best, inattentive and, at worst, sleeping. Divided Visage: This is common. Many people are animated in only half of the face. Some speakers use their eyes and brows to communicate a lot. Unfortunately, someone could put pencils on their upper lips and the pencils would never move. On the other hand, some people are skilled with their “beauty pageant contestant smile” and other lower facial movements, but their upper face looks like it is still recovering from Botox treatments. Regardless of which of these a lawyer does, the result is the same — it looks disingenuous. Contradictory Countenance: I once taught a workshop for the Internal Revenue Service during which one female participant nodded, smiled and gave me great eye contact throughout the entire workshop. She seemed to enjoy every minute of it (and I hoped it was a sign of my polished presentation skills). On the other side of the table was a man who constantly looked like he had eaten something bad and could bring it back up at any minute. Later, I found out that when I read their workshop evaluations, both of their faces contradicted their real feelings about the workshop. The woman hated the class and me (which was an ego-buster about my polished presentation skills). The man found great value in almost everything. In fact, he couldn’t wait to get back to his team and share the newly learned techniques. As a lawyer, does your face contradict your message? Do your words say, “This is really important information,” but your face and head say, “I disagree” or “This is worthless” as you frown, deadpan or shake your head from side to side? Simian Smile: Chimpanzees smile when nervous or scared. So do some fretful presenters. A smile can be a valuable tool in a presentation — it says the lawyer likes sharing his message (it doesn’t have to mean he enjoys presenting). So make sure the smile is genuine — not one a chimp would be proud of. How can lawyers tell which, if any, of the facial faux pas they’re guilty of? Videotape yourself close-up. Sound uncomfortable? Absolutely. Unfortunately, so many things that are good for us are uncomfortable. But as attorneys who speak in front of groups, whether it’s jurors, judges, clients or colleagues, this is one of the best developmental things to do. After identifying the facial faux pas, it’s time to remedy the situation. Which famous people have expressive faces? Most people I ask this question first mention stand-up comedians and actors such as Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, Jonathan Winters and Red Skelton. Does that mean a lawyer should have the elastic face of a comedian? Absolutely not. But why not borrow from them? Use your face — not just your words — to carry your message. When talking about something serious and somber, your face should “sag” a bit and the whole head should come down some. When mentioning something positive and upbeat, make sure your face reflects that tone of voice. Smile, get that light in your eyes and lift your head up high. Want another example of people who give good, yet subtle, face? Watch local or national news anchors for subtle facial animation. They can’t use their hands to gesture for impact, so they have to gesture with their heads, eyes and mouths. A good example is Stone Phillips on NBC’s “Dateline”; he’s a master of gesturing with his head. Much of his on-camera time is spent with his head moving and tilting slightly. In fact, rarely does he look at the camera straight on. For those who watch the show, I may have just ruined the next couple of episodes for you; now you’ll just watch Stone’s head movements. Next time you see someone on television who gives good face, practice mimicking him or her (in private, of course). It will pay big dividends the next time you talk to a client or address a jury. PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS 1. Study the faces of skilled presenters and communicators. The more you study facial movements and expressions, the more attuned you will become to your own. Television is an easy source for good communicators. So are comedy clubs and movies. Notice I didn’t mention corporate executives. Simply an oversight? Not at all. Too many executives are so focused on the words they use (with good reason since their words can have sweeping financial and legal repercussions) that they neglect how they deliver the words. Most people don’t have to be quite so concerned about saying the wrong word. Sometimes, people even hear what we meant when we’ve said it wrong. 2. See how many different emotions you can portray without saying a word. Look in the mirror as you do this. Exaggerate the faces. For the bold people out there, try this with friends or co-workers to see if they can guess the emotion. Think this sounds a bit too much like drama class? So what. There’s a bit of actor in all the best lawyers. 3. Before that next presentation to a client or date on the docket, warm up your face. Get the blood flowing. Make your face as “big” as possible. Then make it small. Make your face broad and wide, then make it tall. (I think I’ve been reading a bit too much Dr. Seuss.) 4. After each presentation or trial, grade yourself on facial animation. Before the next one, set a goal for 1 percent improvement. After a while of doing this, your expanded, communicative facial expressions will become easier and more natural. Yes, the eyes can be the windows to your soul. Practice these tips to make sure the rest of the face gives meaning to your message. Dave Gunby is the founder and principal of MINDimensions, a Dallas-based leadership training and facilitation company. In his 12 years as a trainer, he has helped thousands of people develop presentation skills, creativity, accelerated learning and mind-mapping (an organizing and memory tool).

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