The eyes and face of a speaker convey mood, emotions, and character. Both interpersonal conversation and public speaking use eye contact and facial expression to amplify meaning and clarify feelings. Lack of eye contact and inconsistent facial expression can actually confuse the intended message. Poor eye contact can lead to suspicion, and limited facial expression can imply lack of interest. Effective communicators must intentionally develop skills to communicate with the eyes and face.
The word “countenance” means the outward expression of a person’s inner being. The inward character of a person is reflected outwardly through the eyes and face. The Bible often uses the word “countenance” to describe the appearance of God and the people of God. God asked Moses to tell Aaron and his sons that He would “lift up His countenance upon them and give them peace” (Num 6:26). Samson’s once-barren mother was told by an angel that she would give birth to a son. She told her husband that she had encountered a man whose “countenance was like an angel of God” (Jdg 13:6). David was described as a youth with a “ruddy, fair countenance” (1 Sam 16:12; 17:42).
The Psalms and Proverbs often contrast the happy or joyful countenance of one who follows God with the sad or sorrowful countenance of one who focuses on self (Psa 43:5; 89:15; 90:8; Prov 16:15; and 25:23). For example, in Proverbs 15:13 (KJV) we read, “A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.” The prophets encountered God and spoke of His countenance also. Daniel’s countenance changed when his dream was interpreted (Dan 7:28). Some faces of people in the Old Testament had sad countenances while others had happy countenances (Gen 4:5; 1 Sam 1:18; Neh 2:2-3)
The New Testament describes the countenance of Jesus and His followers. During the transfiguration, the countenance of Jesus was “changed as He prayed” (Luke 9:29). After His resurrection, the countenance or appearance of Jesus was like “lightening, bright and white.” In his vision, John saw the risen Lord and His face (countenance) “was shinning like the sun and midday” (Rev 1:16). A radiant countenance is a theme of Scripture and a trait of holiness.
The Bible describes the face or countenance of several women. In 1 Samuel 1, Hannah’s sad countenance became happy when the priest Eli told her she would bear a child (vv. 8-18). Abigail was described as a woman of good intelligence and beautiful countenance (1 Sam 25:3). King David’s son Absalom named his daughter Tamar after his sister who had been tragically raped by her half-brother Amnon. The countenance of Absalom’s daughter, Tamar, was described as fair and beautiful (2 Sam 14:27). Many other women of the Bible and many godly women today reflect the righteous countenance of the Lord.
If a Christian is created in the image of God, then her countenance should resemble His. The eyes and face should reflect the sincere emotions and godly character of those who love Him. This chapter will highlight the role of eye contact and facial expression in nonverbal communication. Speakers must express thoughts and feelings in their eyes and faces as well as through words.
Eye contact serves several purposes in public speaking. Some believe 75 percent of nonverbal communication is through the eyes. The speaker conveys the sincerity of her heart, the intent of the message, and the intensity of her passion through the eyes. Good eye contact improves the speaker’s confidence, demonstrates security, increases credibility with the audience, projects warmth, builds connection, and communicates value. The audience provides visible feedback to the speaker. Smiles and nods may indicate understanding, while curious expressions or confused looks may imply poor comprehension.
A speaker can control her eye contact and connect with the audience more personally. Keep the eyes open and focused. Wide eyes are more visible in a group setting, and focus allows the speaker to see the eyes and faces of the people. Scan the audience with the eyes and face. Turn the head as well as the eyes to look at someone or some area of the room. Establish eye-to-eye gaze when possible. Connect with one person in the audience at a time. However, try not to stare or move mechanically. Look at all areas of the room and all people. Try to cover all the people and all the room with an eye gaze. Try not to overlook the balcony or extreme sides. Engage in eye contact with the most important people in the room even if they make you a little nervous. Use steady, controlled eye contact. Confidence and persuasion are conveyed with individuals and the audience as a whole with deliberate eye contact. Maintain eye contact with each person or section for several seconds. Complete a thought or sentence before gazing at another person or another area of the room. Avoid looking at the ceiling, toward the floor, or above people’s heads. Roving eyes convey anxiety and disinterest. Look up from any notes, and lock eyes on the audience. Glance down to read a sentence or two then glance up to establish eye contact with the people. Move the eyes about the room in a synchronized pattern. Both eyes should move together across the room and focus together on individuals. Look at the audience while walking to the platform and before walking away. Begin and end the speech by connecting with the audience.
For more tips about the eyes and face, see chapter 22 of our book!
“Warmth is the soul of the voice.” 
In Psalm 149, the psalmist called for God’s people to express praise to Him in words and actions: “Hallelujah! Sing to the Lord a new song…let the exaltation of God be in their mouths.” Exaltation or praise is to be reinforced by a joyful shout. The sound of the voice conveys the emotions and feelings of the heart. A Christian should offer praise to the Lord with her whole self.
Haddon Robinson explained the influence of the voice in his book, Biblical Preaching:
Speech consists of more than words and sentences. The voice conveys ideas and feelings apart from words. We make judgments about a speaker’s physical and emotional state—whether he is frightened, angry, fatigued, sick, happy, confident—based on the tenor of his voice, its loudness, rate, and pitch.
Chapter 21 of our book establishes the importance of nonverbal communication to express emotions and feelings, focusing on three aspects of vocal tone which project meaning: volume, variety, and vibrancy. For the purpose of this blog, we will focus on vibrancy.
Vibrancy refers to the enthusiasm and passion communicated in the tone of a speaker’s voice. An animated and energetic voice adds emotions and feelings to the spoken words. Public speakers should desire vocal vibrancy and lively delivery in speech delivery. Vibrancy in the voice should make the listener want to hear the speech.
Energy is expended physically when speaking. Verbal and nonverbal communication involves energy and effort. Public speakers need to maintain physical as well as mental health to communicate more effectively. Proper nutrition, regular exercise, and adequate rest are essential ingredients of energetic speaking. Fatigue and illness hinders enthusiasm and vibrancy in speaking.
Warmth is an aspect of emotion which can be expressed verbally or nonverbally. Tender feelings can be communicated through choice of words or tone of voice. A softer, lower voice typically conveys warmth. Warmth should be a vocal quality desired by public speakers.
In an etiquette book written in 1942, Margery Wilson suggested that the voice reflects emotions as surely as a mirror reflects an image. Warmth is the “soul” of the voice. Sweetness, generosity, and love of humanity are personal qualities of the inner person that produce warmth in a speaker’s voice. Wilson recommends that people build character and virtues to speak with vocal warmth.
Excitement and eagerness should be experienced and expressed by the speaker. If the speaker does not sound excited about the topic, the audience will not want to listen. When possible, a speaker should select a topic of personal interest. If the assigned topic is less than stimulating, the speaker can express enthusiasm verbally. Vocal vibrancy depends upon energy, warmth, and excitement.
Consider these principles about vocal vibrancy when delivering a speech.
- Determine the presence or absence of vibrancy in your voice.
- Compare your vocal vibrancy to that of other speakers.
- Prepare physically for speaking with proper sleep, nutrition, and exercise.
- Work to soften the tone of your voice to convey warmth.
- Expand your interest to be enthusiastic about the topics for your speeches.
The voice provides insight into the speaker’s emotions and feelings. The vocal characteristics of volume, variety, and vibrancy combine with words and other nonverbal cues to communicate the meaning of the speaker’s message. A simple sentence such as “I have had a good day” can change meaning drastically when the voice is used differently. Soft volume may raise doubt in the listener; loud volume may cause belief in the statement. Vocal variety may keep the interest of the listener; limited variety may lose attention. Vocal vibrancy may convey passion to listeners; flat, monotonous tone sounds unconvincing. Tone of voice is the nonverbal code for expressing emotions and feelings in public speaking.
The sound of the voice conveys the emotions and feelings of the heart.
 Margery Wilson, The Woman You Want to Be: Margery Wilson’s Complete Book of Charm (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1942), 58-59.
 Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1980), 202-203.
“Vertical and horizontal listening are necessary for Christian speakers.”
While there is no one perfect speaker in the world, there are many excellent speakers. Much can be learned by listening to and observing a wide range of speakers in a variety of contexts. Insights can be gained from the strengths and weaknesses of public speakers, and ideas can be prayerfully incorporated into one’s own speaking style.
Assessment of the public speaking of others should consider several personal characteristics or traits in addition to skills and abilities. Observe the speaker’s character and integrity; sensitivity and awareness; knowledge and information; and desire and passion. These traits are worthy qualities to emulate.
Awareness and informal observations should become a natural mindset of a speaker. Without pen and paper or objective criteria, make mental notes as others speak. Learn to communicate more effectively through observation and examination as well as practice.
Some general guidelines will provide structure for informal observations. Begin noticing the speaker even before the speech starts. Continue observation during the speech and until the speaker is no longer present. Consider observing these aspects of communication, incorporating them into conscious thought.
Before the speech.Observe the setting and platform before the message begins. Is the platform conducive to comfortable positioning and movement by the speaker? Is the lighting adequate for good visibility? Are the podium and props set up properly? Is the screen visible for slides if used, and will the speaker be able to reference them easily? Will the speaker be positioned physically to connect with audience? While some features of setting and stage are beyond a guest speaker’s control, some adjustments and adaptations can be made to improve the speech.
Notice the speaker’s behavior and mannerisms even before she speaks. How does she interact with people before the session begins? How does she participate in the program as a part of the audience? How does she approach the stage and position herself for speaking? How appropriate is her appearance, clothing, and makeup?
During the speech.While the speaker shares the message, try to focus on the speech content and allow the Lord to communicate His thoughts personally. Also, pay attention to the public speaking skills employed during the delivery. It may be helpful to organize observations within the introduction, body, and conclusion parts of the speech. The speaker and listener should be consciously aware of each distinct part.
Listen carefully to the speaker’s opening comments in the introduction. Did she immediately capture the attention of the audience? Did she begin with a challenging question or interesting illustration? Did she relate to the other people or elements of the program? Did she quickly gain rapport with the audience? Did she stimulate interest in the topic? Did she project energy and enthusiasm? Did she use specific words phrases or movements to bridge from the introduction to the body?
As the body of the speech was delivered, did the speaker transition smoothly from the introduction? Did the speaker present clear relevant points? Did she include appropriate supportive material to strengthen her premises? Did she use nonverbal communication naturally? Did she utilize the sound system and media effectively? Did she adhere to the schedule and allot time equally to all points? Did she move smoothly into the concluding remarks?
Was the conclusion truly the conclusion? Did the speaker pause, alter tone, adjust pace, or move to denote the conclusion? Did she summarize main points or introduce new material? Did she call for response or action? Did she close in a vivid memorable way? Did she verbalize “in conclusion” or “in closing?” Did she have a false conclusion? Did she stop before the audience finished listening?
After the speech. Recall the positives and negatives of the speech as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the speaker. Was the speaker effective? Was she well-prepared and thorough? Was the message relevant to your life? Was the audience responsive? Were the major points memorable? Were personal applications realistic? What were two or three strengths of the speaker? What are one or two weaknesses needing work? What one positive comment would you like to share with the speaker?
Whether a wonderfully delivered or poorly constructed message, much can be learned through stepping back and observing!