How to Smile on Camera—the Right Way

Your smile can say a lot more about you than you might expect. Our primitive brains evaluate the smiles of others for our safety. We can instantly tell whether it’s authentic or forced.

Instinctively, Smiles Mean Survival

Body language professional Mark Bowden explains that we can’t simply flash a quick or toothy smile. The right smile must build for about three seconds and last for just as long. It also needs to create wrinkles in the corners of your eyes. If your smile is insufficient your viewers’ brains will determine you to be a predator rather than a friend.

The Whole Face Sells Your Story

The smile I just described is called the Duchenne smile, named after nineteenth-century French neurologist Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne. He believed facial expressions were the gateway to the soul. Through experimentation, he discovered that the presence or absence of eye-muscle contractions separate real smiles from forced or fake ones. If the subtle attributes of a real smile are absent—the skin around your eyes crinkling like crows feet—people will inherently mistrust you.

Richard Branson is Perfectly Imperfect

To see the Duchenne smile in action, watch this TIME interview with Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson. Even though he stumbles through a few questions, you probably don’t care because his smile is pure and real. But when he’s asked about global warming, he becomes somber and introspective. Not only does Branson have a genuine smile, he uses it appropriately. We read from his face that he is an authentic leader.

When you’re trying to convey authenticity, your face will give you away. If you’re revealing year-end results, think of some moments of triumph that helped you get to where you are. Even if the numbers you’re sharing aren’t stellar, you’ve probably had some great experiences with your colleagues as you worked together to meet your goals. Doing this can help you relax and offer a genuine smile for the camera.

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