Thin Smiles, Thinner Audiences!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012
posted by Geetesh Bajaj at 4:00 AM IST



Yesterday evening, our bank invited us to a presentation by one of their insurance consultants — and that caused me to run into something I have never experienced before in more than a decade of presenting and teaching people how to present! What I encountered was a thin smile — the presenter had this thin smile plastered on his face right from the start to the end of his presentation — and that lasted for a good hour and half. Fortunately, I had my iPad with me — so I used it to good advantage to pencil all my thoughts immediately!

Before we get to these thoughts, what exactly is a thin smile? Fortunately I found a picture on Office.com that shows exactly what I encountered!

We all do realize that the opposite of a smiling speaker is a grumpy one — and that’s not a great alternative. Yet, how many of you can tolerate a speaker who has a thin smile all through his presentation. So what is the balance between smiling too much, and being just happy? Here are some thoughts to share — you can use these as guidelines to help you not cause a death-by-smiling experience.

  1. Don’t smile too much. The audience may think that you are laughing at them.
  2. Also if you smile too much, the audience may think you are covering up your lack of confidence.
  3. Smiling also has quite a bit to relate to the topic of your presentation. If you are discussing something funny, it might work — but if you are doing a session on bankruptcy or some other negative topic — then the smile may be a huge liability. Our presenter was talking about insurance, and most of that related to benefits after the death of an insured person — the thin smile was totally out of place.
  4. Smiling distracts the audience from your speech. At this point of time, you have lost the attention of the listeners.
  5. If you smile too much, your audience will avoid eye contact with you. That may be detrimental to the reason and objective of your presentation.
  6. Presenters who smile too much may come across as insincere, insensitive, unconcerned, and untrustworthy.

Now by extolling the virtues of not smiling, I do not mean that you should not smile at all. You should certainly smile when appropriate, especially when you are directly speaking with a single member of the audience. And a “thin smile” is something entirely different from a regular smile — the former seems plastic and uninvolved while the latter also results beyond smiling lips to smiling eyes. And a smile that stops after a few seconds is always good. Soon thereafter, you can get back to talking in your most business-like, neutral tone so that you can continue to hold the attention of your audience.

Categories: opinion, presentation_skills

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2 Comments

  • There is good advice here for anyone who is trying to seriously convey information, whether it's in front of an audience or a conversation. This post made me think of Dolores Umbridge from the Harry Potter books, who would smile sweetly while inflicting corporal punishment upon misbehaving students.

    Sending mixed messages through your smile and your words can undermine a presentation, all right.

  • You know we have been told over and over again, "Make sure you are smiling during your presentation. Smile and talk at the same time. That is indeed good advice.
    UNLESS!
    You take it to the extreme and are grinning cheek to cheek throughout your presentation.

    Great point! Too much of a good thing can be bad!

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