Financial Times columnist and author Lucy Kellaway advises that learning how to wear your face during a meeting is a skill everyone needs to know. When one of the colleagues of Theresa May was asked how she is in meetings, they responded by saying the new Prime Minister would look exasperated but poised.
Being able to sit through a conference meeting with this exasperated but poised expression is something everyone should know how to do. It makes you look superior without looking rude. It makes you look powerful but not dishonest. It’s a forbidding, almost regal look to have.
It is important to know how you should arrange your face when you’re sat at a table a work and listening to others talk. An executive can spend up to four hours a day sat in meetings. Most of that time is spent half-listening to someone else talking and looking at how the people who aren’t talking respond and behave. If don’t want to not waste time and know what is going on at the meeting, then use a good meeting scheduling software.
As such it’s likely that we’re all doing it wrong. Everyone worries a lot about how they come across when speaking that they never consider how they come across when not speaking.
I recently received a photo of a panel that I was sat on. The picture was taken by someone from the audience and two of the people in the panel weren’t even looking at the speaker. Two of them looked almost catatonic. I myself looked mad with my bulging eyes and smirk. There was only one of us who actually looked good and that was the guy who looked politely interested but sceptical.
The faces that we pull in meetings are too important to be left to their own devices. Most people will look bored in a meeting when they are not talking, and you should never look bored in a meeting. Your vacant slouch makes you appear gormless while your slack muscles can make you look tired and ancient.
You should never look so bored that you’re about to fall asleep. Kay Whitmore, the chief executive of Kodak during the 90s, became more famous for falling asleep during a meeting with tech master Bill Gates than he was for practically killing Kodak.
While nodding off is a bad idea, there’s nothing wrong with just nodding. I sat on the board of a company for nine years and so I expect I’ve seen some of the finest non-executives in the country nod for hundreds of hours.
The problem with nodding is that there are many different kinds of nods, each of which are associated with different things. If the material is complex then you want to go with a slower nod that tells the speaker you understand or are considering what they are saying.
For the most part though the rules that you follow in a meeting when it comes to facial expressions are the complete opposite of the rules for facial expressions in the office and in life.
While smiling to people is often considered a good move because it makes the speaker feel better, it’s a bad thing to do it in a meeting unless someone makes a joke. Smiling makes you look like you aren’t taking things seriously enough, or taking them too seriously, or are just being a sycophant. While sucking up can be necessary at times it’s something you should never do in public.
While frowning is considered a faux-pas in the office it’s great for meetings. Frowning makes you appear to be thinking deeply and it can distance you from the decisions being made. It also makes you look more superior, which is always good.
Some people like to think that we’re born with the expressions we have, but we can change them.