Smile, And The Audience Smiles With You

Written by Brad Phillips on January 27, 2011 – 6:46 am

Here’s a fun experiment: The next time you have a hallway conversation with a colleague, start nodding as you make a point. You may surprised to find your colleague instantly returning your nod.

Same thing if you smile as you speak – your colleague will likely smile back.

Why do we humans subconsciously imitate that which we see? Some neuroscientists point to “mirror neurons,” an emerging subject of considerable interest and intense debate. Even though the science is still a bit murky, the implications could be huge.

As described by Wikipedia, “A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another. Thus, the neuron ‘mirrors’ the behavior of the other, as though the observer were itself acting.”

Here’s a bit more science: According to authors Giacomo Rizzolatti et al.:

“Each time an individual sees an action done by another individual, neurons that represent that action are activated in the observer’s premotor cortex. This automatically induced, motor representation of the observed action corresponds to that which is spontaneously generated during active action and whose outcome is known to the acting individual. Thus, the mirror system transforms visual information into knowledge.”


Your understanding of mirror neurons could be a huge boon for you as a speaker. Allan and Barbara Pease, co-authors of The Definitive Book of Body Language, report that members of your audience are more likely to accept your ideas if they are nodding and/or smiling.

The next time you give a speech, try nodding and smiling as you make a critical point. You’ll likely see many members of your audience responding in kind. And when they do, you’re that much closer to achieving your goals.

Related: Acting “As If” You Are a Good Public Speaker

Related: Three Things To Do When The PowerPoint Crashes

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

    Brad Phillips

    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

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    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

    Christina tweets at @PMRChristina.

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