Real v’s Fake: The Importance of a Genuine Smile in your Business Videos

As part of my video presentation coaching work, clients often tell me that the thought of putting themselves and their message out there video triggers self-consciousness thoughts, feelings of nervousness, not-enoughness, and self-doubt.


In an attempt to compensate or mask the discomfort they’ll often present themselves by being very serious and not smiling at all, or they’ll overcompensate by forcing inauthentic expressions most commonly the  “fake smile”.

Neither approach looks good on video, especially under the scrutiny of the camera lens.

 Humans have evolved the ability to distinguish real vs. fake smiles (friend from foe) over countless generations.

We Study Faces

Humans are genetically programmed to study faces, a trend that begins with our natural ability as infants to recognize faces.

In this visual medium of video, oftentimes you’ll be filmed in close up on video, where your face will take up much of the frame. As a result, your viewers will tend to focus their attention on your face, eyes, and mouth. It’s here that the viewer will be able to detect any little facial nuance and expression particularly when it comes to a warm, genuine smile versus an inauthentic smile.

Because of the confines of the video frame, your viewer now has a front-row (intimate) seat into the very nature of you i.e. your ability to hold effective eye contact or lack thereof, your present state of mind, mood, attitude, your tone of voice, quirks, and mannerisms.

How to Spot a Fake Smile

Fake smiles are deliberately produced in the absence of a joyful emotional state in order to deceive one or more individuals (1) Ekman, 1993. Superficially, fake smiles look similar to genuine smiles, but there are some crucial differences:

    • Fake smiles can be performed at will – we can consciously make cheek muscles contract
    • They involve only our mouths, and we can hold them for as long as we need to
    • The eyes, however, don’t come alive to match the smile. Often they remain deadpan

However, the human brain is 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. 

At the time of writing 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.

Results (2) showed that people who showed a real, authentic smile were considered more trustworthy and positive compared to people who showed a fake smile.

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Sport a Warm Genuine Smile on Video

Although empirical support for these studies has been mixed. It is still advantageous to adopt the practice of using a warm genuine smile on-screen.

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).

Research showed that Duchenne smiles (i.e., smiles that are formed by flexing facial muscles making the eyes’ corners wrinkle up with crow’s feet) were associated with self-reported pleasure and enjoyment and were generally rated more positively than non-Duchenne smiles (i.e., smiles that are formed with no contraction of the muscles of the corner of the eyes; Ekman et al., 1990; Gunnery and Ruben, 2016).

Also with Duchenne smiles, we don’t have voluntary control over the muscles (crinkling up) around our eyes and our mouths, nor the duration of the smile.

Snap Judgements

Take a look at many of the advertisements you see on billboards, in print, online or TV tonight. We are bombarded with fake smiles – and judging by the research 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.

Important: Warm Up Your Smile

What can we take from this? If you’re presenting on video, you want to make the most of creating an impactful first impression, this is something you have maximum control over.

The best way to sport a warm genuine smile and enhance your on-camera presence is to eliminate tension. In my 20+ years of experience working in front of and behind the camera, tension is the number one confidence killer for on-camera work.

Like any pro-level athlete, you’ll want to develop a pre-game warm-up routine to get your most expressive features camera ready:

Be Camera-Ready

  • Warm-up your facial features
    • gentle stretching or massage around your eyes, cheeks, jaw and mouth can bring blood to this area. This will also help to release any stored tension held in the facial muscles, and prep the face for better facial expression range
  • Reduce physical tension
    • Since your upper body will be more apparent in the frame, it’ll quickly show stored tension, stiffness and uneven, unsure looking shoulders
    • Perform slow neck rolls, gentle shoulder rotations and soft arm swings to help loosen up the upper body
  • Always be refreshed and well hydrated prior to filming. Your lighting set-up can draw attention to areas of the face that appear a little worse for wear due to low quality sleep and dehydration.  The camera will also magnify this
  • Emotional Management
    • Be genuinely happy and excited about what it is you are presenting – chances are 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 will naturally lift your face and the deep breath will calm those nerves, relax and level the shoulders, as well as reduce tension and it will bring you back to your centre.


If you have a question or you what me to cover a topic for you let me know. I’m always listening! And, you can always book a time with me to get the tailored support and guidance you need on any of the performance areas covered in this post. See below for details or learn more about my services here.




Source: (1), (2)



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