It can feel weird at first, but smiling in public is so important. it is perhaps the most important non-verbal behaviour – without it, your speeches will be nowhere near as effective as they might have been. And the good news is that smiling will make you feel good, too.
There is plenty of research to back this up: smiling promotes trust in strangers, and looking at a smile lights up areas of the brain associated with pleasure. Smiling faces are even easier to remember – and the thing you want most of all from your audience is to be remembered by them!
Smiling is good for the person doing it, too: it has a relaxing effect, and releases endorphins which will help you feel more positive. Smiling actually uses fewer facial muscles than frowning, so it is even less hard work to give everyone a grin! When you first walk out on stage, give as many people in the audience as possible a smile – you will feel better for it.
All that said, the key with smiling is the same as with speaking: it must seem natural. The former Prime Minister Gordon Brown famously struggled with smiling in public, and many people shared his discomfort when he did so.
So, when appropriate, add some humour to your speech and allow yourself to smile, even laugh: it will relax you further and win over your audience. But don’t fix your face in a rictus grin at every juncture: if you deliver a serious line whilst baring your teeth you risk looking quirky rather than charismatic.
Likewise, when you smile, think of something which gives you genuine pleasure – a favourite person or place, for example. Imagine something you’re grateful for to boost your mood, the added pleasure will show in your smile.
Most importantly, the smile isn’t just about your mouth: yet more research shows that it is as much about your eyes and body language, too. So finding something to smile genuinely about is key if your audience is to engage with your smile rather than be repelled by its insincerity.
Having said all that, it is helpful if you can train yourself to smile on cue. Build triggers into your presentation – when you switch a slide, or whenever you say a positive word like “good” or “kind”. As strange as it sounds, practice your smile so that it will seem as natural as possible.
All this will only be possible, of course, if you are feeling comfortable. Whole rafts of techniques need to come together for great public speaking. But smile in the right way – and avoid the wrong ways! – and you will be well on the way to great results.