Smiling: An Asset or Liability?

A smile can be your greatest asset or a liability-especially if you're a woman. Flashing those pearlie whites can dazzle an audience. Think Julia Roberts. Her smile lights up her face and has become her signature.

Too often speakers mistakenly believe that to be professional you must be serious. Actually, the opposite is true. It takes confidence to smile and show expression. If you're too serious you'll appear nervous. In fact, the absence of a smile can be downright intimidating. One executive I coached was perceived as aggressive and arrogant.. Why? Because he showed no facial expression. He listened with a deadpan expression. It was chilling. We had to teach him to show teeth. When he started to smile he was able to connect with people. Smiling warms up the audience making you more approachable.

But smiling can also be a liability. Grinning like a Cheshire cat or plastering a non-stop smile on your face smacks of insincerity. When smiling is genuine you can see it in the eyes. Smiling too often can be more detrimental for women than for men. Women need to strike a balance between a serious expression and a smile. Excessive smiling can be perceived as subservient, people pleasing, or lacking confidence. Smiling is also situational. It's inappropriate, for example, to smile when announcing layoffs. Trying to break the tension with humor can backfire in that situation. Maintain a serious demeanor to demonstrate empathy and respect for the employees.
So to show you mean business-get serious. To connect and engage your audience- smile. When you smile and look somebody in the eye you acknowledge their presence. A smile says, "I see you. You're important. I care.". Your smile is your gift.