As part of the class I teach on effective body language for public speaking, I mention lips. Most of us don’t think much about our lips. They just sit there, after all, being taken for granted. And unless we’re looking in a mirror, we don’t actually see our own lips.
Lips are integral to helping audiences understand our message better. They are part of our articulation system along with our teeth, tongue, and soft palate plus the vibration of our vocal cords. When we add our facial expressions to that mix, the audience is better able to follow and understand our message. Think of telling someone, “I was just thrilled to receive the invitation,” and delivering it in a deadpan voice with lips in a straight line without any evidence of joy on our faces. Our audience, even if only one person, will not believe that we are happy.
Sometimes new speakers believe they have to be deadly serious when they’re speaking. Actually, audiences relate much better to speakers who are open and willing to let their true personalities show through if appropriate for the message. By that, I mean if you are a jolly and gregarious person but delivering a bad news message (“I’m sorry to say that we’re closing this store.”), you would obviously need to make your body language, including facial expressions, match the message.
Lips can be used to smile, frown, deliver a kiss, pout when we don’t get our way, whistle, or blow raspberries to signal our derision. By the way, did you know the reason babies blow raspberries is that they’re beginning to understand that putting their lips together helps them to make sounds?
When our lips disappear, it indicates high stress or shame. Body language expert Janine Driver says, “When we don’t like what we see or hear, our lips disappear.” Think of disgraced politician Anthony Weiner, shown below.
If you search for photos of other disgraced politicians or celebrities, their lips pretty much appear the same. If you think this is a good look, raise your hand. Ya, me neither.
So go ahead. Use your lips in a positive way and think about how important they are to relaying the message that you intend to send.