Since the days when we were mere babes in arms we have used facial expressions to convey what we feel, what we want, what we think. It has been such a successful way of communicating our emotions over the evolutionary years it's not surprising that we've never put much emphasis on cultivating a neutral expression [except perhaps for poker enthusiasts], one that doesn't convey any particular emotion.
Now showing emotion and having varied facial expressions when we deliver our presentations is a great way to keep our audience engaged and communicate that we are fully present and involved. But there are times, both when delivering a presentation and when watching one, that a neutral face is a very useful technique.
WHAT EXACTLY IS A NEUTRAL FACE?
In the context of presentations I describe a neutral face as one that has an unbiased, impartial expression. It's not an "open book." With a neutral face the audience shouldn't be able to discern your opinion about something that's been said -- either by you or by someone in the audience.
Not for a moment, however, do I mean to suggest that a neutral face is somehow blank, disengaged or unfriendly. It is just not guiding the audience to a particular conclusion or biasing them in any way.
The neutral face is pleasant and attentive with strong eye contact and relaxed facial muscles.
WHERE WOULD YOU USE A NEUTRAL FACE IN A PRESENTATION?
There are several key places in any presentation where a neutral face is one of your best tools:
1. When you're answering a question that is confrontational or argumentative. Under these circumstances you want to maintain your cool and your facial expression is key to communicating to the audience...and the questioner...that you're in control of your emotions. Your neutral face in this situation enhances your credibility, professionalism and maturity far more than a frown, look of disgust or rolling eyes.
2. When you ask a question of the audience and someone gives you a wrong answer. Maintaining a neutral expression assures you won't embarrass the responder by overtly signifying that the answer is wrong (or dumb or stupid). You can then elicit responses from other audience members and reinforce the correct answer once someone offers it so the audience is left with the accurate information.
3. When you want to encourage the audience to express different perspectives. By remaining neutral during a dialogue you will encourage more audience members to share ideas. Knowing that you hold certain opinions because your facial expressions have communicated them can shut down opposite points of view.
flickr/Aztec Greenstone Mask C.C. 2.0