Victor Borge, the Danish comedian, conductor and pianist, once said that a smile is the shortest distance between two people. It’s a shame that people do not do it more often. And yet, as we grow older, we smile and laugh less.
Studies have shown that the average child laughs up to 500 times a day; adults, on the other hand, laugh on average only 15 times a day. Not good. According to this article, research on laughter “suggests that 100 laughs a day are equivalent to 10 minutes on a rowing machine … 15 minutes of laughter has the relaxing effect of meditating for 8 hours [and] 10 minutes of laughter has the relaxing effect of 2 hours sleep.” (Time to watch some comedy DVDs!)
When it comes to public speaking, laughing your way through a presentation is likely not a viable option. However, unless the subject is very somber or serious, there is nothing wrong with smiling. Indeed, we should smile. It is a simple and effective way to connect with an audience.
However – and this is important – your smile must be genuine. Do not paste it to your face. Your audience will know if it is not sincere. Rather, smile when you feel like smiling and display other emotions as appropriate.
As noted in this excellent article by Doug Stevenson, an expert on corporate storytelling,
If you are new to speaking, or don’t speak very often, be careful not to plaster on the “speaker’s smile”. You can and must be yourself. Your best shot at becoming a successful speaker is to be real. …
Smile because you are happy. Smile because you are excited about what you have to say and about the opportunity to share your wisdom with an audience. Smile when a smile is appropriate. At other times, trust that your face knows what to do. Trust that your audience knows how to interpret your authentic emotion.
If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of smiling, this article by Dr. Kristie Leong, a family physician with an interest in disease prevention and alternative medicine, is a good place to start.
And, if you want to smile right now, watch this 6-minute film. Not a word is spoken, but I bet you can’t make it to the end without smiling. Or laughing!