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!