Public Speaking Tip 67: Give Your Smile Muscles a Workout

I never thought much about smile muscles until a recent exchange.

I was working in a Manhattan video studio, coaching IBM sales leaders on how to deliver selling tips by video; and on our first morning at work, one of the cameramen came up to me and said,

How can you talk and smile at the same time?

I’d never thought about this before, so it took me a few seconds to answer,


Every Smile is Not Created Equal

Image by Ed Yourdon, Flickr/Creative Commons

You wouldn’t think we’d need to practice something we do effortlessly with our friends. But smiling spontaneously when you mention something positive at lunch isn’t the same as smiling continuously while you critique people’s pauses, pronunciation, and — sometimes — their entire attitude toward what they’re doing!

That kind of work-related smiling requires something you may not have thought about: cheek muscles.

To build the cheek muscle strength you’ll need to smile and talk for long periods of time, try this exercise:

If You Can Walk and Chew Gum, You Can Talk and Smile

This isn’t hard, but it may feel awkward the first time you try it.

Stand in front of a mirror and smile at yourself while saying things like,

  • “Thank you all for coming today.”
  • “It’s great to see you here.”
  • “I appreciate your feedback.”
  • “I’m very excited about today’s program.”

The reason I suggest these phrases is that speakers (and people in general) often neglect to smile while saying words that should indicate pleasure. Words = pleasure, but Face = serious. The disconnect is going to unnerve your listeners or perhaps lead them to conclude that you don’t mean what you’re saying.

While you’re saying these, or other, pleasure-indicating phrases, notice (by watching and sensing your own body) what your cheek muscles are doing.

To put it simplistically, they’re holding up your mouth, right?

Notice that it takes a little effort to hold up your cheek muscles and mouth while your lips, tongue, jaw, and throat stay relaxed and loose so that you can speak without looking (and sounding!) like you just got a round of botox injections.

Like I said, this may be a little awkward at first. But it won’t take long to get the hang of it — probably much less time than it took you to learn how to ride a bike.

Catch Yourself Speaking with a Smile

As with all kinds of public speaking practice, you want to build on a positive sense of what you’re trying to accomplish.

So as you go about your day,

  1. Catch yourself smiling while you talk to other people
  2. Notice how you feel while you’re doing it
  3. Notice what the muscles in your face are doing, and how you’ve managed to relax your lips, tongue, jaw, and throat while your cheek muscles are doing more work than usual

What you do when you’re relaxed and feeling positive is what you want to aim for when you practice. That way, you don’t have to re-invent the wheel — you just have to catch yourself doing it “right,” and then copy yourself!

And how much smile is enough (you may ask)?

This YouTube video by yours truly gives one answer:

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