In the business world, many of us believe that being expressive—allowing our faces, our voices, and our body language to convey authentic emotion—will be viewed as unprofessional. In fact, expressiveness can be one of your biggest business assets.
The conference room is jammed with a hundred new volunteers. It’s 2004, and I’m a program director for one of the largest nonprofits in Los Angeles. As I deliver the final words of my orientation talk, my voice pops with emotion. The volunteers cheer wildly. That’s when I notice the CEO at the back of the room. He is a reserved type of leader, and I can tell he has something to say. I’m worried he might have perceived my presentation as over the top. I feel a slight tightness in my throat as the volunteers file out of the room, gabbing excitedly.
“The buzz around the office is that your presentations always leave volunteers enthusiastic to get involved,” says the CEO. “I came to see for myself. Now I know why. Good job, Brian.”
How did I get volunteers so excited? Simple: I openly expressed my passion for the organization’s work. In the business world, many of us believe that being expressive—allowing our faces, our voices, and our body language to convey authentic emotion—will be viewed as unprofessional. In fact, expressiveness can be one of your biggest business assets. Here are four reasons expressiveness works:
Engages your audience
You’re probably familiar with the actor Ben Stein. Whether droning the tagline, “Clear Eyes. Wow,” or portraying the sleep-inducing economics teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, he has made a career out of speaking in a lifeless monotone. For most of us, though, dull and boring is not the ticket to getting noticed.
The truth is that an audience is only as engaged as the speaker. If you are not moved or excited by the material you are presenting, your audience won’t be either. That’s why it’s crucial to look for opportunities to be more expressive, not less so. Change up your vocal variety—make your voice softer to draw your audience closer or louder to shake them up a bit. Inject passion into important points. Use pauses to build tension. Get your body involved. In short, don’t be the Clear Eyes guy.
Expressiveness grabs an audience’s attention and holds it—which means they’re absorbing your message, not thinking about that email they need to send.
Helps to create clarity
Have you ever been misunderstood? It’s likely because your body language or tone didn’t match your words. Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages, concluded in his research that only 7% of the meaning of any message is conveyed through the words. Vocal elements, such as pitch and tone, shape 33% of the perceived meaning, while about 55% is conveyed through nonverbal elements, such as facial expressions and gestures.
People want to understand what you are saying. So they look for nonverbal cues. A frowning doctor communicates a different message from a smiling one, no matter what words he chooses. By expressing emotion to clarify your meaning, you help listeners better understand what you’re saying.
Imagine your boss telling you in a flat, emotionless tone, “This quarter’s results are really interesting.” You’re left wondering, Interesting/bad or interesting/good? But if that same leader delivers those words with a lilt in her voice and a playful smile on her lips, you breathe a sigh of relief, knowing she means, Interesting, this could really propel our business forward! Clearer emotion, clearer meaning.
Helps your audience retain information
Think about your days back in the classroom. Which teachers made the most lasting impressions on you? Probably the ones who made learning fun. Why? Brain research suggests that fun aids long-term memory. Neurologist and educator Judy Willis finds in her book Research-Based Strategies to Ignite Student Learning: Insights from a Neurologist and Classroom Teacher that “the highest-level executive thinking, making of connections, and ‘aha‘ moments, are more likely to occur in an atmosphere of ‘exuberant discovery.’” There’s no doubt that an expressive speaker creates far more exuberance in an audience than a dull one. Express more and your audience will retain more.
Allows you to stand out
Let’s face it, there are thousands of people out there with job titles and qualifications similar to yours. So what’s the “it” factor that can help you stand out from the pack? Your expressiveness. When you express your true emotions in your trademark way, you become a unique and specific individual in the minds of others, not just a face in the crowd. You acquire a personality and flavor all your own. You become indelible in others’ memories.
It all boils down to this: when authentic emotion arises during a presentation, don’t suppress it; show it! Let your passion, your caring, and your excitement shine—in your face, in your voice, in your body.
By using expressiveness in my nonprofit job, I conveyed enthusiasm for my organization’s work, and volunteers became engaged and energized. I also stood out to my co-workers and CEO, who didn’t realize they had the freedom to do the same.
Connect with the hearts and minds of others, and you’ll be a highly sought commodity in whatever field you’re in.