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Does Smiling Help or Hurt Presenters?


istock_000015149969xsmall1-200x300The 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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