Don’t pull an Eli Manning at your next speaking engagement

If you watched the fourth quarter of the SuperBowl on Sunday, you may have noticed Eli Manning’s marked lack of enthusiasm when his brother’s team, the Broncos, scored a touchdown and essentially clinched victory near the end of the game. (If you missed it, check out this video.) Eli Manning’s gaffe is a good reminder to professionals that even when you are not speaking, audience members may be watching and you need to be aware of your facial expressions. Here are four specific situations speakers should be mindful of:

1. When you are being introduced

You are standing off to the side of the room or stage as your presentation is being introduced. Even though you are not at the lectern and speaking yet, listeners will be looking at you. For many speakers, the moments before you go on stage are the most nerve racking and this anxiety can come across in your facial expressions. Make sure you don’t project nervousness, but convey confidence by smiling and looking at the introducer or out at the audience as you are being introduced.

2. When you are being asked a question

Speakers often look defensive or stern when they are put on the spot in a Q&A session, job interview, or during an interview with a reporter. To avoid these expressions when you are searching for a good response, practice pausing, taking a sip of water, smiling, and thanking the person for the question. This will buy a few seconds to formulate your response and to come across as cool and collected when you are speaking off the cuff.

3. When you are on a panel and someone else is speaking

Vice President Al Gore famously rolled his eyes and sighed when then Texas Governor George W. Bush was speaking during their first presidential debate (his behaviors were even spoofed on Saturday Night Live). Though few speakers will ever be in a televised debate, many find themselves on panels with experts who hold contrary views. As Gore learned, it only makes you appear unprofessional and immature when you look annoyed or disdainful when someone you don’t agree with is speaking. Focus on maintaining a neutral facial expression while you listen courteously; a good way to do it is by taking notes on what the other person is saying – and writing down your counterarguments.

4. When you are the subject of a toast or receiving an award

Being the center of attention can be awkward and uncomfortable for many people. Avoid looking at your feet out of embarrassment or glancing at the ceiling impatiently so that you don’t come across as rude or ungrateful for the accolades you are receiving when someone is toasting or honoring you. Instead, look at the speaker and out into the audience with a smile on your face that conveys appreciation and humility.

Take Eli Manning’s miscue on Sunday as a cautionary tale about being aware of your facial expressions when you aren’t speaking but audience members are watching.

A version of ths article was published at