Read My Lips

If you want to understand what I’m saying better, you can read my lips. That’s what a recent study discovered about the link between seeing people speak and hearing their words. LipsIt turns out that when you watch people speak, the visual cues help you to predict and understand the auditory cues that follow soon after. These visual cues are actually not limited to the lips, but include the entire human face.

When I interviewed co-author Virginie van Wassenhove about her neuroscience research, she said that she and co-authors David Poeppel and Ken Grant found:

"… that visual speech information (i.e. seeing the speaker’s face) facilitates the processing of auditory speech. One of the major results in the study suggests that the neural facilitation is specific to how much speech information one can extract from the interlocutor’s face. The more salient the visual speech information is, the faster the auditory speech will be processed."

So not only can you improve communication by showing your face; if you are more expressive with it, people will understand you even better.

In an age of online this and virtual that, it’s nice to hear a little news about the value of a face-to-face. What about webcasting you say? According to Virginie,

"If visual movements lag (instead of naturally preceding) the auditory signal by as little as 50 to 100 milliseconds, the benefit of having visual speech is already diminished."

The average webcam hasn’t quite reduced lag by that much, so while you’re waiting for technology to catch up, the next time you have a face-to-face, pay attention to the visual speech you see, and how much it contributes to the auditory speech you hear. You just might find that you can understand quite a bit by reading someone’s lips, not to mention the rest of their face.

Tip:  To fully engage the power of your face as a visual communications tool, try these techniques:

  1. Reduce the clutter on your PowerPoint slides. If you overload your slides, you will distract audiences from paying attention to you, your face, and what you’re saying.
  2. Check the lighting. Especially if you’re using PowerPoint, keep the lights bright enough that people can see you. If the light is too bright to see your slides, use a brighter projector.
  3. Express yourself.  Many people tend to shut down when they speak in public, often because of nervousness. A good rule of thumb is to double the level of enthusiasm and expressiveness you think you should have – which should be just about right for your audience. When you’re enthusiastic, your face will be sure to follow suit.
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One Response to “Read My Lips”

  1. Seeing the whites of their eyes

    There’s an interesting post about the importance of visual speech information over at Beyond Bullets, which got me thinking about how important this can be in a project situation. visual speech information (i.e. seeing the speaker’s face) facili…

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