Public Speaking Tip from Liz Taylor’s Eyebrows

When the Elizabeth Taylor died earlier this year, the world lost one of history’s greatest pairs of eyebrows. They were magnificent.  And as a public speaking coach, I consider myself quite a connoisseur of eyebrows.

They are one of the most expressive tools we have as communicators.

The Science of Eyebrows

Eyebrows have always been known as a way to make women look sexy. During the 18th century, full eyebrows in Western Europe were considered so important that some upper class ladies were said to affix mouse hide to their foreheads.

But there is more to the eyebrow than just beauty. They are a critical part of how we express ourselves.

Indeed, there has been a fair amount of anthropological study of eyebrows. Social scientist Dr. Paul Ekman has an entire section of his book Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage dedicated to reading eyebrows.

It seems that eyebrows are critical landmarks that define our faces and give them distinctive looks and expressions. When people talk about the expressiveness of the eyes, what they’re really referring to are the eyebrows.

I read about an eyebrow study done at MIT. Volunteers were shown celebrity faces like Richard Nixon and Winona Ryder.   When the faces were digitally altered to eliminate the eyes, the volunteers were able to identify the celebrities with little problem. But if the researchers eliminated the eyebrows, the volunteers’ ability to recognize the faces dropped dramatically.

Where would Jack Nicholson or Groucho Marx be without their eyebrows? And what about Mr. Spock?  His eyebrows were his only way of expressing emotion.

Use Eyebrows  To Show Intensity

The best speakers find ways to convey passion and intensity.  You can express that passion with your voice or by smiling. But I’ve found that exaggerating eyebrow movement is a great way of injecting intensity into your message.

I was working recently with a senior executive from a large water utility. He had an incredibly bored look to his face.  And when I told him to try smiling, it just didn’t work.  It looked like he was in pain.

So I said, “Try exaggerating your eyebrows. Imagine that you’re Jim Carrey.”  And it worked.  Suddenly, he came across as expressive and animated rather than bored.

When I left the practice of law, I had a coach to help me with my speaking skills. The number one piece of critical feedback I received was that my facial energy was weak. As I spoke, I seemed bored.  I spent a lot of time working on my facial energy. Specifically, I worked on activating my eyebrows.

Develop Your Eyebrow Smile

It’s easy to develop a great eyebrow smile.  Stand in front of a mirror and practice speaking. As you speak, force your eyebrows up. You might be amazed at how it warms your features and makes you look expressive.

Try it. And have a nice thought for Liz Taylor.

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