Face first: How smiles can tell your stories

August 7, 2013

In the book A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink writes, “And the main canvas for displaying those emotions is the face. With forty-three tiny muscles that tug and stretch and lift our mouth, eyes, cheeks, eyebrows, and forehead, our faces can convey the full range of human feeling. Since empathy depends on emotion and since emotion is conveyed nonverbally, to enter another’s heart, you must begin the journey by looking into his face.”

In the first blog in our People First series I wrote that as humans, we engage immediately with faces. We look at people’s faces, especially their eyes, to determine what they are feeling. This, in turn, helps us determine how we should respond or interact with the person we are looking at. Smile? Show sympathy? Flee a potentially dangerous situation?

These facial expressions are universally recognized, no matter what culture a person is from. A look of joy is the same in Bangladesh as it is in Brussels. This is very important truth when it comes to using pictures and video to move people to action. While rational thought can be put into words, emotions are best carried through nonverbal means – in person, in pictures.

As an example, Brian Storm from MediaStorm has found when experimenting with his multimedia productions that a smile is vital to having the viewer connect to, and open their mind to, serious issues. His theory is that until the main character in his videos smiles directly at the camera (and thereby the viewer), he cannot introduce a serious issue. This can be by smiling at a warm memory he or she is sharing, saying something funny, or smiling as they talk to the person behind the camera. People have to first care about the character, to identify with them, before they can open their mind to the issue. Character-driven stories win the day and humans are attracted to happy or, at least, hopeful people. But, remember, genuine smiles only!

Liz Banse

Editor’s note: This is part 3 of a 3-part series called People First about how to best use pictures of people in visual communication. Part 1 is about the importance of using photos with faces, and Part 2 is about choosing your spokespeople carefully