There’s wisdom in a smile when it comes to business presentations.
I hail from England where smiling at a complete stranger will guarantee you a nervous glance and a wide berth. Living in the southern United States for 20 years has remedied that. I now grin merrily at strangers, and even strike up friendly conversations, without fear they’ll call security on me at the first available opportunity.
Despite the suspicious nature of my country folk, a smile remains the universal sign of friendliness. So, why is it regarded as a negative trait when we give business presentations?
Here at Speechworks, we encounter clients on a daily basis, who smile like cherubs as they chat with their colleagues pre-presentation – then morph into Les Miserables as soon as they take center stage. It’s like they all got the memo that smiling is the universal sign of weakness and ineptitude when it comes to being business-serious. “Nope. Nothing to smile at here. This is IMPORTANT stuff.”
In truth, a smile is a win-win in most public speaking situations. If you have an opportunity to greet members of your audience before your presentation, a smile is the ultimate ice breaker. It’s also an excellent opportunity to get them on your side before you’ve even started.
Now, obviously, if you’re coming in to fire half the work force, you may NOT want to be grinning like a Cheshire Cat. But, there’s usually a way to shoehorn a smile into your presentation somewhere – even if it’s just at the very beginning, or the end.
When you create your presentation, plan strategic places where you can add a smile. A smile brings levity to your subject matter and light relief for your audience. We teach everything you do should be audience focused. After all, they’re the ones who have to sit through the entire experience looking as deadpan as you are. Of course, I’m not suggesting you crack jokes, unless you happen to be a brilliant comic in your spare time.
As a wise colleague of mine once said “ If you’re happy, notify your face”. Get that face out of park! You have 40-plus muscles above your neck. Use a few of them. And we don’t mean the “fake” smile. That’s when you yank your lips into a cheesy grin, while the rest of your face betrays the stone-cold, stoic truth.
Studies show the mechanics of a genuine smile – known as the “Duchenne smile” -involves a dance between the zygomatic muscle, buried in the cheek, and the orbicularis oculi, wrapped around the eye socket. The former pulls the lips upward, while the latter synches the corner of your eye, producing the signature “crows feet” that signal genuine, positive emotion.
Of course, a true smile really starts in the emotional region of your brain. You see an old friend across a crowded room, and that magical smile emerges. Greet your audience like an old friend. You are here to help, support and enjoy their company. Best of all, that smile will win them over and make you look calm, cool, collected and confident. As my dad would say “a face like a burst boot won’t win you any friends.”
Julie Lindsay draws on a long career in television news to help clients speak in a way that is simple and persuasive. She began her journalism career with the BBC in London, reporting on everything from terrorist attacks and natural disasters, to war zones and revolutions. Next, came a move to the U.S. as anchor and editor on CNN International.
She also served as Chief Managing Editor with WebMD in the U.K. and then programming editor of Global Health Frontline News, making documentaries about kids fighting curable diseases around the world.