Microexpressions & How They Can Help You Become a Better Santa

About 30 years ago, LONG before I ever portrayed Santa Claus, I began the study of microexpressions. At that time I was on a mission to become more comfortable with public speaking. I was a member of Toastmasters International, taking classes and attending many different training sessions on becoming a better communicator. During that time I was introduced to the research on microexpressions.

I AM NOT endorsing any of these websites or anything they may offer. I’m ONLY providing links to them to help familiarize you with microexpressions if you are not already familiar with them. You can learn more about microexpressions here- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Microexpression & here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGhOuA3rr1k  & here https://www.scienceofpeople.com/microexpressions/

The basic idea is pretty simple, it’s this. We (all people) subconsciously have micro reactions in our facial muscles that express our emotions… these true emotional indicators are present, (ever so briefly) even when we consciously are expressing other emotions or simply acting in ways that are more polite or more socially acceptable.

There are 2 ways that an awareness of these microexpressions can help us become even better at portraying Santa (as well as in all of our communications).

The 1st is in our ability to better ‘read’ a child, or parent, we are engaging with as Santa.

The 2nd is in our ability to better express the emotions we want to express as Santa. This can help us create better photos & videos.


Of course, some children are very easy to read… especially the younger ones who are terrified or thrilled to see Santa. One comes running with open arms and the other is drug kicking & screaming or they just don’t get near Santa at all… easy enough.

Where we are helped by being familiar with microexpressions is not so much on the extremes as in the middle. The child who is hesitant but curious. When we can recognize that little spark of curiosity, or wonder, or surprise, we have something to build on.

By understanding how to interpret microexpressions and then by paying close attention to the eyes, lips, brow, nose & cheeks we can get a ‘read’ on what the child (or adult) is feeling.

Here’s an example, many times when I’ve determined the child is afraid but also curious I’ve suggested that the child just stands to the side for a few minutes and I’ll talk with him in a few minutes.  

I’ve also had times when a parent looked concerned because their child was crying or very reluctant to visit with me. In times like this, I’ve often said something to put the parent at ease. I might say something like, “Oh, my goodness… you’re full grown. I remember when you were your daughter’s age. You have always been so nice. I’m glad to see you again, please tell me, who is this?”

By engaging with the adult it takes the pressure off of the child. It also provides an opportunity for the child to access us and the relationship we have with the adult… the child is getting a ‘read’ on us.

You may well have done these things too… at some level recognizing microexpressions is intuitive for most of us but the more deliberate we become at looking for & recognizing microexpressions the more effectively we can use them to improve our Santa portrayal.

Emotions are tricky and the better we can become at recognizing them EARLY the better position we’re in to nip any negative emotions in the bud before they taint the whole Santa experience.


By being knowledgeable of, and conscious about, our expressions, micro and otherwise, we can improve our photos & videos.

Here’s an EXCELLENT EXERCISE for you. In front of a mirror, or better yet in front of a webcam that’s video recording, start with a solemn or regular face and slowly smile with your eyes. Keep your lips and everything else the same. Using ONLY YOUR EYES smile. Practice this… if at all possible video record yourself doing this and watch and re-watch the video.

Do the same thing using ONLY your lips.

The idea with these exercises is to become aware of when the very slightest indications that you are happy, or in our case, JOLLY become visible. Understanding how to subtly convey your jolly demeanor allows you a wider range of Santa-like expressions… it can also help you change your ‘set-point’ or your ‘resting Santa face’, so even when you are not ‘on’ you still look Santa-like.

It’s amazing how instinctual it is for us to ‘read’ these body language clues. My granddaughter is only 11 months old and she’s been able to ‘read’ emotions from both looks & vocal tones for a while now.

When she’s doing something she questions, like reaching for something on an end table, she will often look over to me and see my reaction. I can give her a ‘no’ nod with an unhappy look and she gets it… the same with a ‘yes’ nod and a smile.

I’m certain that increasing my consciousness of these non-verbal clues has helped me become a better Santa Claus portrayal artist.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Please leave your comments below and/or join the discussion in our Facebook Group.

2 thoughts on “Microexpressions & How They Can Help You Become a Better Santa”

  1. Ed, I found this article and the accompanying videos and photos very interesting and instructive. I plan on using some of it in my classes for the Northern Lights Santa Academy in April here in Atlanta.

  2. As an elected official and an IT professional who worked with senior management for over 30 years, I believe I can read most people well.
    In 2018 I got a lot of great shots for photographers who told me in advance, ‘the next boy or girl doesn’t like Santa’. You are absolutely correct, if you can tell fright from nervous, but curious, it helps ease the fear or nervousness. Sometimes, it takes getting off my chair can sitting or laying on the floor to work with some children. Unfortunately, studio photographers AND parents need to stop forcing things. God Bless the mall Santas who are not given the time, but some how gets a good photo.

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