Real vs. Fake Smiles in Your Video Presentation

As part of my video presentation coaching work, I see a lot of people who are nervous about appearing on camera. Often they try to compensate for their nervousness; either by being very serious and not smiling at all, or they overcompensate by forcing a “fake smile”. Neither approach makes them look good on video, especially under the scrutiny of the camera lens.

We, humans, are genetically programmed to study faces, a trend that begins with our natural ability as infants to recognize faces. If you are being filmed close-up in a video presentation, your viewers tend to focus their attention on your face, eyes, and mouth. At a subconscious level, people can sense what is real vs. what is fake – especially when it comes to smiles.

How to Spot a Fake Smile

Superficially, fake smiles look similar to genuine smiles, but there are some crucial differences. Fake smiles can be performed at will. Our conscious brain tells the cheek muscles to contract. Fake smiles involve only our mouth, and we can hold them for as long as we need to.

Most of us produce fake smiles from time to time, usually to be polite when we are passing someone in the hallway or on the street. But when it matters, our brains are remarkably good at distinguishing real smiles from fake smiles – and this detection happens at a subconscious level.

In situations where trust is important to us, we pay close attention to a person’s smile

Studies show that in situations where trust is important to us (which is exactly the case if someone is trying to sell us something on video), we pay close attention to a person’s smile. We then decide whether or not we can trust that person.

A genuine smile is generated by the subconscious brain (called a Duchenne smile after the French Physicist who used electric currents to stimulate the facial muscles of his subjects). Muscles around our eyes crinkle up as well as our mouth, and we don’t have voluntary control over these eye muscles, nor the duration of the smile.

Humans have evolved the ability to distinguish real vs. fake smiles over countless generations.

Three Seconds is all it Takes to Judge a Person

Take a look at many of the advertisements you see on TV tonight. We get bombarded with fake smiles – and our subconscious brains aren’t buying it!

Humans have evolved the ability to distinguish real vs. fake smiles over countless generations. A mere three seconds is all it takes for us to make a judgment about whether a person is a friend or a foe, and whether or not we should trust them.

Research into mirror neurons shows that we tend to reciprocate the emotions on the faces we see in front of us. If someone is smiling a warm genuine smile, we can’t help ourselves; our subconscious brain makes us want to smile back at them and we want to automatically trust them. This is not the case when we see a fake smile, however. When we spot a fake smile we automatically question the trustworthiness of the person.

How to Warm up Your Smile

What can we do with this information if we are presenting on video and want to appear more genuine? Eliminate tension! Tension is the number one confidence killer for on-camera work.

  • Warm up your facial features, gentle stretching or massage around your eyes, cheeks, jaw and mouth can bring blood to this area, help to release any stored tension held in the facial muscles, prepping the face for better expression. Athletes warm-up the same principle applies here.
  • You need to be tension free – since your upper body will be more apparent in the frame, perform slow neck rolls, shoulder rotations and gentle arm swings to help loosen-up the upper body. Uneven shoulder height, can look odd on screen.
  • Always  be refreshed and well hydrated prior to filming. Lighting, the camera lens etc can  all enhance areas that appear a little  worse for wear
  • Be genuinely happy and excited about what it is you are presenting (if you are not excited, your audience certainly won’t be!)
  • Just before you hit the record button, take a deep breath and begin to smile slowly on your exhalation. Smiling helps to naturally lift your face (bonus – youthful appearance) and the deep breath helps to relax and balance your shoulders, reduce tension in your face and jawline and gets you centered.




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