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Should presenters smile?


Does smiling when presenting hurt or help?

by Guila Muir

The actual answer to this ques­tion, based upon many stud­ies and years of research, is “it depends.”

How Smil­ing Helps

The act of smil­ing changes our brain chem­istry for the bet­ter. An authen­tic smile can:

  • Boost mood and con­fi­dence by increas­ing sero­tonin, nor­ep­i­neph­rine and endorphins.
  • Lower heart rate, and
  • Reduce anx­i­ety.

These chem­i­cal changes obvi­ously ben­e­fit pre­sen­ters.

An authen­tic smile also makes other peo­ple feel good. An audi­ence that feels good makes our job as pre­sen­ters eas­ier. In fact, when peo­ple see a smile, the reward cen­ters of their brains turns on, mak­ing them hap­pier. Who doesn’t want a happy audience?

So what could pos­si­bly be the down side of smiling?

How Smil­ing Hurts

Among pri­mates, smil­ing means sub­mis­sion, “I am not a threat.” We humans still read smil­ing this way. Over­smil­ing makes you appear less con­fi­dent and more desirous of approval. (NOT how you want to be per­ceived as a presenter!)

Most stud­ies find that in gen­eral, women smile more than men. In fact, research involv­ing nearly 110,000 peo­ple found that smil­ing is females’ default option.  Audi­ences may per­ceive a con­stantly smil­ing female pre­sen­ter as less com­pe­tent and knowl­edge­able than a less-smiling female or a male. But males can over­smile, too.

To Smile or Not to Smile?

Here’s how I would answer that ques­tion. Before pre­sent­ing, pre­pare yourself:

1. Pump up your enjoy­ment level. Tell your­self, “I will enjoy this,” or “I feel great,” or “the audi­ence is my friend.” Allow your­self to feel positive.

2. Feel an authen­tic smile engen­dered by pos­i­tive thoughts. Feel­ing 100% present,smile as you intro­duce your­self and take own­er­ship of the pre­sen­ta­tion space.

3. Grad­u­ally and nat­u­rally, let your intro­duc­tory (and authen­tic) smile fade as you get fur­ther into the material.

4. Be will­ing to smile and laugh nat­u­rally through­out your pre­sen­ta­tion. Always smile when wel­com­ing peo­ple back from a break.

The bot­tom line is, as usual: Be your­self, with an adden­dum: Watch your smiles!


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