Frequently, when I’ve presented in public, I’ve been told that I need to smile more, or that I look too serious. This is a challenge for me because I feel like I’m already smiling. I’m smiling on the inside, but apparently my muscles aren’t cooperating, or the signals my brain is receiving lead my brain to believe I’m smiling when I’m not.
I was recently on a panel at an event and afterward met one of the attendees, Bettina Schmidt, who is a “Harmonizer & Reiki Practitioner.” I have no idea what that is, but somehow I thought she might have some tips on how I could improve my smile, so I asked her. She later sent me an email with some great tips, which I’m sharing here in its entirety, with minor editing for clarity, since Bettina sent this to me as a quick note, not expecting it to be published or anything:
1) Train your smile. If you just try to smile a lot, all the time, without thinking about it, you will most likely get this weird “I keep people locked in my basement” smile, which is contrary to what you want to achieve, I assume. Smiling doesn’t only work with your mouth, but also (I am sure you know) with your eyes, your face muscles, your body language. However, training it will get you more confidence for your face muscles and the body language part. For 1 minute every day for the next 14 days smile in front of the mirror (works also by turning your phone camera so that you can see yourself, which makes it easier when you are on the run).
To enhance your natural smile do 2 things:
a) Think of nice situations you had in the past and picture them in detail, including how they made you feel.
b) Do a gratitude exercise: Think of this sentence: “Today, I am grateful for…” and then complete it with your kids, your body, your favourite color, the nice breakfast on the weekend, the event that went well, etc.
Both of these are mood-boosters and will help you to smile more authentically. Get used to what an authentic smile feels like and try to remember it.
TIP: always squint your eyes when smiling (makes your smile automatically more natural).
This might seem like too much effort. Remember that a fake smile is not really a smile. Better to let it go then be fake. If you cannot be authentic, people will feel it.
2) Create triggers and habits. As you are not naturally smiling a lot during your normal daily activities, you need triggers to create a habit. Creating a habit usually takes around 5 weeks in my opinion. A trigger has to be something that you experience regularly, without having to remember. Some examples:
- At a presentation, train yourself to set a smile every time you click for the next slide or you get the next slide
- When your phone rings, smile before you pick up (will also enhance your communication by the way)
- Find a trigger word that other people use a lot, like “nice” or “and” and link it to a smile–maybe you have a word that really suits you here (for me the word is “awesome”)
There are some rules with this second step:
- Do not get discouraged if you can’t fulfill your goal for a day. It defeats the purpose when you are angry, so no point in doing it. Replace the thought with something nice.
- Try to combine the 2 steps, but do not overthink it.
- Keep it simple, relax and give it time–habits don’t get created over night. But if you keep practicing at some point your smile will come automatically and you will be shocked you didn’t even think about it.
A friend of mine, Cheryl Conner of Snapp Conner PR, says “Rehearse in advance to be sure the smile is natural. If it’s too conscious or forced it ends up looking like a smirk. Letting your natural enthusiasm about your role at a media event is one of the best ways I’ve found to keep your head in a positive place and produce a smile that is natural.”
I once saw Guy Kawasaki, who has a great smile, speak at a conference and afterward he did a Q&A where he talked about his speaking coach who taught him how to smile better. Like Bettina, he spoke about how an authentic smile doesn’t engage only your mouth, but your eyes as well. Those wrinkles on the sides of your eyes that we call crow’s feet? That’s how you know you’re truly smiling rather than merely showing your teeth.
After receiving this advice I did some research on my own, because I have experienced a second challenge, which is smile fatigue. I was on TV once for 20 minutes and by the end of the 20 minutes my lips were quivering and my cheeks felt tired and sore from trying to hold a smile. And then on top of that people still said I looked too serious and should have smiled more. After looking at the advice online, the conclusion I’ve reached is that smiling takes muscles, and if you want to be able to hold a smile without quivering, and get a more natural smile at the same time, you have to work out. That is, practice smiling and holding it, and find more opportunities where you need to smile and hold it. As in many other parts of life, practice makes perfect. And practicing smiling, it turns out, can be good for your mental health, even better than eating chocolate.
Do you have any secrets for remembering to smile, or holding a smile for a long time?Liked it? Share it!