If public speaking isn’t your “thing,” then smiling is probably the last thing you want to do while presenting in front of an audience. But the following research shows it might be just the thing you need to change a daunting task into a more enjoyable experience for both you and your audience.
Here are 5 scientifically-backed reasons to smile while speaking.
While we are often under the impression that reserved or limited facial expressions make us seem “cool,” one study proves the reverse is actually true. In a study published in 2018 in The Journal of Consumer Psychology, researchers “found over and over again that people are perceived to be cooler when they smile compared to when they are inexpressive.”
While you may not be concerned with being perceived as “cool,” this study holds important related findings. If we think being inexpressive leads to more positive perceptions, whether that’s being cool, or serious, or credible, that’s simply not the case. Professor and researcher on this project Caleb Warren reminds us that “being inexpressive can hurt relationships.” Presenting is a form of communication with an underlying relational foundation. Speakers need to smile in order to help build a relationship with their audience.
A large body of research has proven that humans tend to mirror or mimic each other’s facial expressions. One study from Psychological Science found that this mimicry can even occur on a subconscious level. In other words, if someone smiles at you, you will probably smile back without even thinking about it.
That’s because we typically want to express warmth and connection. So when you stand up to speak and you smile at your audience, they will probably smile back. This will initiate a subconscious and powerful connection. And that connections benefits both you and your audience.
The study above shows that when you smile at the audience, they will probably smile back at you. But the benefits keep coming. Once you look out and see a smiling audience, it will help to reassure and relax you.
Neurologist Dr. Isha Gupta explains that the act of smiling sets off a chemical response of increased dopamine and serotonin in our brains. He says, “Dopamine increases our feelings of happiness. Serotonin release is associated with reduced stress.” So when you smile, your brain is producing chemicals that are telling you, “I’m enjoying this. I’m okay.” Good messages to have rolling around in your brain while you are speaking, don’t you think?
Psychological scientists Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman of the University of Kansas found that smiling can reduce the body’s response to stressful situations. They instructed some participants in their study to “smile” by holding a chopstick between their teeth during certain tests. Some of the tests were specifically designed to be stressful. Kraft and Pressman then measured the participants’ heart rates as well as their self-reported stress levels.
They found that those who had the chopstick in their mouth during the tests had lower hearts rates and reported less stress. “These findings show that smiling during brief stressors can help to reduce the intensity of the body’s stress response, regardless of whether a person actually feels happy.”
If all of those reasons aren’t enough, or if you are someone who feels like public speaking might take years off of your life, get this. A smile could help you live longer.
Researchers at Wayne University studied the correlation between smiling and lifespan. They found that athletes who had genuine smiles in their photos ended up living 7 years longer than those who didn’t smile.
All in all, smiling seems to be a pretty simple way to make your public speaking experience less stressful while also helping you connect with your audience. If the context and tone of your presentation warrants a smile, try taking the floor and smiling at your audience before you even open your mouth. It’s not an empty suggestion. It’s science.
The tips we use for mastering the art of presenting are backed by scientific research. Ready to see how we can help you?
Still need more help with your presentation?We've got the solutions. Talk to Us