Monday, June 13, 2011

The Power of a Smile

In my Executive Presence seminars I always emphasize that a smile, given it’s one of the few truly universal facial gestures, is one of the strongest tools in your professional tool-kit. Researchers at Penn state have found that when you smile, you appear to others as instantly more likeable, courteous and competent. That small gesture has a significant impact on your credibility.

However, I rarely have the time to go into as much detail about the smile as research has found, all of which serve to highlight the benefits of the smile and build the case for smiling more. Hold on now though… because here we go!!

• Using 3D ultra-sound technology, we have found that babies smile in the womb. In fact, we are typically born smiling (until the cold of the outside world or a slap on the bottom bring us around!). Even babies born blind… smile!

• We typically smile to express joy and satisfaction. Interestingly, children can smile more than 400 times per day. However, smile research in adults finds that only one third of us smile more than 20 times per day, with none of us coming close the 400 smiles of childhood. Further, 14% of us smile less than 5 times per day. Little joy happening there!

• Studies that were conducted measuring the size of smiles in student’s yearbook photos with their later success in life found that the bigger the smile, the more successful they proved to be – more successful with their marriages, general well-being and were a greater inspiration to others.

• Other studies of –re 1950’s baseball player’s playing cards found that the span of their smiles predicted the span of their life. The bigger the smile, the longer the life (I kid you not!)

• The very act of smiling stimulates the brain’s reward function. Therefore the mere act of smiling increases our overall sense of happiness and well-being. For those of you that are chocoholics and rely on a piece of Godiva to help you feel better, research has found that one smile can generate the same level of positive brain stimulation as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate (forgive me if I would prefer to then combine the two and surround myself with smiling people while eating chocolate… but that’s just me!)

• Customer service personnel often place a mirror on their desk so that they can look at themselves while speaking to customers on the phone. Watching themselves as they talk serves as a reminder to smile more while talking to customers, because when you smile while speaking, it impacts the voice such that customers can ‘hear’ the smile, making the customer service representative sound warmer and more caring.

• Smiling can actually help to physically reduce the amount of stress inducing hormones in the body (dopamine, adrenaline, cortisol) while increasing the levels of mood enhancing hormones (like endorphins) and decrease your blood pressure. No drugs needed here!

• And, finally, studies have found that it is actually tremendously difficult for us to frown at someone who is smiling. The smile is evolutionarily contagious. It actually serves to suppress the control you have on your facial muscles, making it difficult to maintain a frown. The old adage ‘Smile and the world smiles with you’ is apparently more accurate than we may have believed to be true.
The smile is an integral part of your ability to connect with your audience, making you appear warmer, more attractive, caring, interested and engaging. Is it any wonder that laughter clinics are seeing a rise in their business. In a world where we are constantly pushed to succeed and exceed, it may be true that taking the time to relax and have a little fun along the way may be a secret success tool we have overlooked. As it turns out, laughter may be the best medicine after all!

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