Photo Credit: Dennis P. Kamoen
“When your child enters the room, does your face light up?” ~ Toni Morrison
Everyone has access to one powerful and easy attribute that too few have learned to thoroughly leverage.
Awhile back, I wrote an article titled, “It’s The Messenger, Not The Medium.” In it, I talked about my journey in becoming camera ready. Here is an outtake:
I have a friend who was the one who got Donald Trump media-ready for the “Apprentice,” where she worked at that time as a producer. So of course I asked her what she did. Her advice was simple: practice, practice, practice. Set up a camera and film yourself.
I did this and studied the results. From what angles do I look the best? How should I smile. How should I sit? What should I wear? What colors look good on me? What about my voice? Is my enunciation adequate, my tenor too high or too low? Does my passion for my mission come across well?
Would I want to listen to me?
According to Dale Carnegie in his seminal book, “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” (one of my all-time favorite books), people think actions mostly follow thoughts … I want to get a bowl of ice cream so I walk into the kitchen and get a bowl of ice cream. But actually, thoughts can follow actions, for example, if you are smiling, you naturally feel happier. If you are acting confidently, pretty soon, you will start to think confidently. Here is the key: it is easier to control your body than your mind. So, pushing your body to do something is easier than forcing your mind to think something (or in many cases, to not think something).
What did I learn about myself with all my practicing and recording? Two simple things actually made a huge difference. 1. Smile all the time, even when I’m talking (tricky but possible). 2. Keep my shoulders back and stand or sit up straight no matter what.
You can read my whole article here. It didn’t get a lot of attention because it was when I first started writing on Medium, but I consider it one of my personal favorites.
What I found out by watching myself on videos is the secret weapon that we all possess: our smile.
Consider what a smile does: it makes you happier, and broadcasts to the world that you are positive, uplifting, optimistic, and open. It is life-affirming. Translated, it tells people that you like them — that they make you happy. It can be interpreted to mean that you admire them. It says, “I am happy to see you!” Even if you are a stranger. People naturally want to mirror what you are doing so if you are smiling, they will feel the desire to smile in return. And as Dale Carnegie wrote, when you smile, in and of itself, it can make you happy.
While conducting research on the physiology of facial expressions in the mid-19th century, French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne identified two distinct types of smiles — one with the facial muscles and one involving the eyes. Since then, researchers have discovered that if you smile with your eyes, including crinkling of the corners sometimes called, your crow’s feet, it represents more of an authentic, joyful smile. And if you smile with just your mouth — artificially raising the corners of your mouth muscles — it can be interpreted as a “fake smile.” This is also sometimes called, “the Pan Am smile,” or “the Botox smile.” So if you are going to try your own Smile Experiment, remember to involve your eyes so you do not appear to be disingenuous.
I started experimenting with my smile in everyday life. As I was returning from a long walk, I saw an old friend in the alley. He had recently lost his girlfriend in a suicide and he was depressed himself to the point where he wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue. As I approached him, I smiled my biggest and brightest smile. His face lit up and he returned the smile. I kept smiling. We caught up chatting about this and that. The whole time I smiled. By the end of our conversation, it seemed perhaps as though a burden had been lifted from his shoulders for at least a little while.
I have talked to people about my life’s passions and dreams, and their dreams, while smiling. I make sure that when I complement people, I deliver it with a huge smile. When I am meeting friends for dinner, I smile like there is no one else in the world I’d rather see.
The results have been remarkable. Not only do I feel better and happier, I think people are more willing to accommodate me, to work with me, to help me if needed. Friends seem to want to hang out with me more. Maybe they find what I’m saying to be more interesting. They want to listen to me. They want to share their truths.
Smiling is incredibly easy. It’s free. It’s powerful. Try your own experiment for a few weeks and let me know how it went. And take Toni Morrison’s advice, smile when your child enters the room!!! You can watch the interview on Oprah Winfrey here.