Microexpressions on Camera: The Face Tells All

We depend on reading facial expressions to understand what others are feeling. That’s why the face is referred to as “the organ of emotion.” We “encode” messages in our facial expressions. Simultaneously, we “decode” the faces of people around us.

The science behind audience perception

Paul Ekman is the Human Lie Detector. His extensive research on the science of emotions shaped the animated film Inside Out. The film personifies five emotions: Anger, Disgust, Fear, Sadness, and Joy, which fight for control of 11-year-old Riley’s mind. To match Riley’s external emotions to her inner conflict, Director Pete Docter utilized Ekman’s concept of facial coding, “which measures and codes different facial expressions across cultures into a concrete set of emotions shared by humans.” The film’s huge success is largely due to its effort to reflect real, recognizable human emotions.

You can’t fake authenticity

Just as the audience perceives Riley’s outward emotions, the audience of any on-camera presentation will be able to perceive their emotions. Facial expressions play a central role in our impression of credibility. Our faces give our fears and insecurities away and can show whether we are telling the truth. And when someone tries to conceal their expression, “leakage” of that emotion can be read through the face as a micro expression.

Several years ago, Tribe created this campaign film for Scripps College. Their call to action, “We want more,” speaks to the potential this strong California women’s college would have with increased funding. The women we interviewed show deep conviction for their message. And without any b-roll shots, our subjects sell their performances exclusively through their facial expressions.

Expressions build your credibility

Express your message in an honest way that embraces emotion. Whether it’s remorsefulness during an apology or joy when announcing a highly anticipated company merger, your honesty builds trust with your audience. But, if you arrive to the recording session with baggage from a bad day, that bad day will enter the communication. In my last blog post, I shared a few ways you can improve your pre-performance mind-set routine.

As a leader going on camera, you have to be purposeful about your message and about how you’ll present it. Being in front of the camera is intimate. Your face occupies thousands of pixels on screen. And your audience will be able to intuit the feeling behind the words you say.

Sign up for The Slate: A Twice-a-Month Tip for Using Video to Achieve Your Business Goals.

“It’s one thing to understand the role of video in business communication, it’s another to know how to use video to solve actual business problems. Vern Oakley gets that.”


When you work with Tribe, you’ll get…