The Performance Dance

Member news | November 01, 2021

The big day finally arrived, you are on stage, this speech is important for you, your career, your company. And you want to impress your audience with your performance.

However, you have less than 30 seconds to make a good first impression, which means that the public will form a first impression before you even speak. And your first words will be crucial for the rest of your presentation.

People quickly make judgments about others with only limited information. If you make it clear that you are here with them and for them, they will like it. What they want is to be sure that you desire to engage with them.

You can always start with a big smile, but not a fake one. A real, genuine smile, showing them that not only you are happy to be here, but also that you care. 

Do you know that according to experts there are two smiles?

The first one is called Pan Am Smile. It is the name given to a fake smile, in which only the zygomatic major muscle is voluntarily contracted to show politeness. It was a forced smile that was trained into the Pan Am flight crews when greeting travelers. Today, this smile is also called the Botox Smile.

The second is the Duchenne Smile. A French neurologist, Guillaume Duchenne discovered the differences in the muscles used in the genuine smile. When the corners of your mouth turn up and the corners of your eyes crinkle, you have a Duchenne smile.

Your audience can see and feel the difference between a forced courtesy smile and a true one.

But how can you have a genuine smile when you are anxious, when you don’t know people who are in front of you, or you know them so well that you don’t appreciate the idea of delivering a speech to them?

Because portions of our brain control the muscles for each type of smile, there are tips for having a real smile. You can practice smiling in front of the mirror before your presentation. Once you are on stage, you can concentrate on your eyes and imagine a joyful situation. You can also find your own formula, as I did years ago.

When I was hired as Communication Director at the French insurance company Groupama, I quickly found myself in charge of 15 big meetings. As I had to travel more than twice a week, and present our new communication campaign, I was exhausted and unable to think of smiling on stage.

The solution appeared on its own as I was speaking to a very positive colleague. I asked him to sit in front of me in every meeting. It became easier to respond to his smile and his energy and carry them to other participants.

If you are not sure how you are going to engage with your audience, smile. You can always fake it until you make it, but don’t forget the eyes. 

Muriel Omur Ilbas is a former TV producer and anchorwoman, a communication expert with 20 years of management consulting, 16 years of training services, and 11 years of executive coaching experience.

She has worked with more than 150 global companies including Pepsi, British American Tobacco, Coca Cola, L’Oréal, Limagrain, Lesaffre, Total, Peugeot, Groupama, Louis Vuitton, Basf, Roche, Glaxo, and Novartis.

Her company, LSWUS Consulting, LLC, based in the U.S., provides a broad variety of online and in-person services in consulting, coaching, training, mentoring, and crisis management for expat managers and international students living in the US.

She provides intercultural coaching and public speaking services under her brand: Your Coach in America.