How facial expressions change your perception of your experience

Hosting a virtual event is hard. You have to keep the energy up, get people to engage, push excitement onto the next presenter, rally the crowds at the end of the day, and encourage them to come back the next day!

As an attendee, you have no such demands on your energy. If you are a conscientious participant, you may thoughtfully offer positive facial expressions, but very few participants do. As a result, your event host is playing to a room that looks an awful lot like this (if their cameras are on at all!):

Long before the advent of video conferencing, scientists were studying how facial feedback modulates a person's emotional experience. One research study focused on the theory that expressive facial muscle activity alone could produce an emotional experience... There has been support for this theory scientifically proving that smiling created the sense of happiness when not previously present in subjects, and frowning generated more negative feelings than were present previously.

Interestingly, another study found that distractions severely inhibit emotional response. The study focused on negative emotions and distracting from them, but was proven to be similarly effective in inhibiting positive emotions...


When's the last time you joined a virtual event and paid full attention? According to Bizzabo, 47% of virtual event attendees are unengaged in the content. But the larger problem for me is the 53% of people who ARE engaged but completely lack visible feedback to the presenter and organizers. With so many events being one-way broadcasts, this kind of visual feedback is not necessary, but engaging in chat or responding to polls helps the presenter and organizers understand if the content is hitting the mark.

On Zoom meetings, which are the majority of the experiences that Nicole and I create, we actively feed off of the energy of the participants. As extraverts, we put all of our energy out there to lead a fun and exciting session, and it is PIVOTAL that we get visual feedback in return.

I've actually started asking for 3 volunteers at the beginning of my events to give me facial feedback throughout the experience so that I can get the energy I need from them. It has completely changed my perception of the success of the event as the host. Compare the picture above with a view like this one:

In related news, additional research studies have shown that emotions are contagious. If any contagion is acceptable in this day and age, it's definitely smiling and laughing in a Zoom together.

Emotional contagion is simply when one person’s emotions or behaviors are mimicked by another person’s. Often times, these emotions or behaviors happen subconsciously. According to “Are You Catching Other People's Emotions?” in U.S. World and News Report, upbeat emotions such as enthusiasm and joy, as well as negative ones such as sadness, fear and anger, are easily passed from one person to another, often without either party realizing it.

John T. Cacioppo from the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago explains that the more expressive someone is, the more likely you are to notice that expression and mimic it. He continues that the muscle fibers in your face and body can be activated unbeknownst to you, at much lower levels than if you were to perform those movements yourself. It’s those muscle movements that trigger the actual feeling in the brain.

So as a virtual event attendee, consider offering some visible feedback to the event organizers and presenters to help them out... and based on the research, you'll actually enhance your own experience at the event!

As an event host or organizer, consider throwing some "ringers" into your crowd to lead the charge on facial feedback and engagement.

Now our next steps are studying how we connect those contagious emotions evoked during shared experiences to the generation of pipeline and deal acceleration. Meanwhile, we encourage you to run your own tests and share your results!

Join the Convo

Haute Dokimazo is embarking on a year-long research study to connect emotions evoked during a shared experience and their impact on pipeline and revenue generation. If you are a leader of a sales or marketing organization at a commercial or enterprise company, apply to be part of the program. Applications are being accepted for one more week.

If you are interested in being a program partner and gaining access to the research results, strategy sessions, and program insights, reach out to me at

In 2022, we hope to share our findings of 1) how much shared experiences impact pipeline and revenue generation, 2) which emotions need to be ignited/evoked to drive those results, and, 3) that profitable relationships are sparked by genuine connection created in this type of environment.

If you are a leader of a sales or marketing organization, apply to be part of the program!

Liz Lathan, CMP is co-founder and CEO of Haute Dokimazo, sparking profitable relationships anchored in genuine connection through rousing shared experiences and conversations. Explore the #HugLife community for event professionals and Convo, a new year-long program for marketing and sales executives. Subscribe to our Journal of Human-Centric Marketing to get weekly content.

Haute Dokimazo is part of Haute Companies, a family of companies that believe in human connection, from events to media (podcasts, videos, and more) to direct mail to swag to entertainment talent management to strategy session facilitation. Contact Liz at