When it comes to the reward system in the human brain, smiling has been shown to be even more beneficial than chocolate. That’s because, research shows, smiling is related to the release of endorphins, those chemicals which make us feel good and decrease our stress. For speakers, smiling takes on special importance, because sincere smiles play a key role in connecting presenters with their listeners.
“Perceivers spontaneously mimic facial expressions of emotions, and their own emotions are affected accordingly,” a study published in Psychological Science shows. If someone smiles at us, we tend to smile back without even thinking about it. When you smile as you stand up to speak (or as you are introduced to a virtual audience), you’re expressing warmth and connection; you will probably notice the others smiling back at you. It’s all good – as a speaker, not only does a smile help you appear confident and competent, your own speaking “jitters” are reduced. With a smile as a connector, you’re more relaxed and comfortable, ready to share your message; the audience members are more relaxed as well, eager to hear what you have to say.
Your smiling should actually precede your going onstage or being introduced to your virtual audience. Warm up for your talk by extending your lips in a big smile, raising your eyebrows to spread the smile to your eyes. Those practice smiles will give you confidence to establish and maintain another all-important aspect of body language – eye contact.
The problem for speakers, though, is that smiles that are not genuine don’t really do the trick of connecting them to their listeners. In fact, forced smiling often makes audiences uncomfortable. A magazine article titled “Questionable Presentation Advice: Smile More” raises an important point: facial expressions need to match the words coming out of the speakers’ mouths.
One dentistry expert notes three signs that a smile is fake:
- absence of closed or squinted eyes
- absence of “crow’s feet” wrinkling around the eyes
- visibility of bottom teeth (person is forcing their own lips too far apart)
A second dentistry practitioner explains the Duchenne Smile, named after 17th century French researcher Duchenne de Bologne. Duchenne believed that the key to a real smile is found in the eyes. Though the muscles around your mouth are easy to shape into a smile, the muscles around your eyes (the Orbicularis Orbiti) he taught, are triggered only by genuine feelings of connection.
No, you don’t want to be smiling through a serious story. Still, as you’re trying to teach people, perhaps to persuade them to take a certain course of action or at least be receptive to a new way of looking at things, it’s important to put those people at ease. Remember, your body language is going to speak even louder than your words. Smile at your audience – like you mean it!