7 secret advantages of speakers who smile

Want to reduce stress, get more positive feedback from your audience, and appear more confident? Crack a smile.

That speaker over there who’s smiling, does she know a secret?

Yes, seven of them. They are the secret advantages of the speaker who smiles.

Ron Gutman summarized much of the research about the benefits of smiling in a 2011 TED Talk. Here are some of his points that are most relevant to speakers, along with some tips I share with my trainees.

The speaker who smiles:

1. Feels better. When you pull your muscles into a smile, your face sends feedback to the brain, which modifies how your brain processes emotional content. The end result: You feel better when you smile. Some research suggests that smiling feels better to your brain than eating chocolate. (You may wish to test this out at home.)

2. Doesn’t look grim or bored. When your face is at rest, your physiology works against you-most people’s mouths are either a flat line or slightly downturned. Even a small smile will counteract that appearance. If you need proof, take a quick look at people on television who don’t think the camera is on them. You’ll see those flat lines or downward turns of the mouth.

3. Can hide what she’s thinking. A benign smile is a great mask to wear, particularly when you’re in a tough negotiation. “What is she thinking?” everyone will wonder. Make like the Mona Lisa to keep your face from belying your feelings, whether you’re angry, nervous or unconfident. Smiling is the best fake-it-until-you-make-it trick I know.

4. Is more engaging and impressive to watch. How the audience perceives you is a big part of public speaking success. Some studies show a beneficial boost in the audience’s perception of a speaker who smiles. Specifically, smiling makes you look courteous, likeable and competent.

5. Will look better in pictures or on video. Have you ever winced when you saw a video or photo of yourself speaking because you looked grim, angry, confused or sad? Just smile. It’s especially good to keep smiling when you’re listening, say, during the Q&A portion of your talk. Make it your default at-rest expression.

6. Will get more positive feedback from the audience. Research shows it’s difficult for us to frown when we look at someone who’s smiling. Smiling is “evolutionarily contagious,” Gutman says.

7. Feels less stressed while speaking. Smiling lowers your blood pressure, increases the mood-boosting hormone endorphin (think runner’s high), and reduces the hormones that enhance stress, like cortisol, adrenaline and dopamine. For this reason, I coach speakers to start smiling 10 minutes before their talks.

Below is Gutman’s TED Talk on the hidden power of smiles. You also can order the Kindle Single based on his talk: “Smile: The Astonishing Powers of a Simple Act.”

Are you smiling yet?

Denise Graveline is the president of don’t get caught, a communications consultancy. She also writes The Eloquent Woman blog, where a version of this article originally ran.


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