The beauty of a smile

Written by Jan Freedman, Curator of Natural History, Plymouth Museum Galleries Archives.

Someone once said to me “to smile is to live”. What a beautiful statement. And so very true. To smile at the wonders of the world around us makes us happier people. How can a blue tit singing on a branch, or a beetle scurrying in the grass, not bring a smile to our lips?

Smiling really is good for your well-being too. A smile releases chemicals called endorphins, which make your brain happier. These chemicals automatically make you feel more relaxed, and boost your mood. The more we smile the better we feel, making us smile more. Like a circle of happiness, a smile makes you smile more.

A smile is also good for other people too. How wonderful it makes you feel when you see the joy of families exploring our museum galleries. I want visitors to smile when they are wandering around an exhibition, and share that joy with their family. The same endorphins are at work when we see a smile; it makes us smile, and gives you a little boost.

There’s another wonderful side to a smile too. A side that shows people you are listening, you are interested, and you want to hear more.

The beautiful bloody-nosed beetle. Those beautiful feet, and gorgeous antenna brings a smile to my face every time I see one! (© Jan Freedman).

Many of us will have been to talks or presentations, be it might an evening do, or a multi-day conference listening to a number of speakers. All of us are familiar with those long talks that never seem to end. Or it might be the last talk of the day. We drift. We doodle. We tap our phones. The slides click along, and the voice of the speaker seems to drift away.

But what about the speaker? What’s it like for them to see an audience of people looking uninterested, doodling, or tapping at their phones?

Most people are not natural presenters, the majority are extremely nervous. Possibly even terrified. They want the audience to enjoy their talk and want them to leave thinking about the cool things they have heard. But inside the speaker worries: Will they understand it? Is it too dull? Will I remember to say everything? Can they hear my voice shaking? And the nerves build and the sweat down the back slowly trickles.

If you have ever given a talk, you know those pre-talk nerves. You know how well you want it to go. I have given dozens of talks to a huge range of audiences. Every single time, that fear is there. No matter how well it is rehearsed, the nerves always hit me in the stomach.

There is a wonderful, slightly magical thing that helps. It doesn’t come from giving dozens of presentations. Or from imagining the audience is naked (I’ve tried that, it really doesn’t work). It comes from the audience in the beautiful form of a smile.

For a speaker to see a smile, and perhaps a little nod, gives them that endorphin boost. It shows the audience is listening. It shows they are engaging. And it has a huge affect. The speaker can see someone is listening and enjoying what they are hearing. The speaker raises their voice, and speaks more confidently. It feels like the talk is going well, resulting in the talk really going well. The endorphins kick in and the speaker starts to smile as they talk.

It’s easy to sit in an audience. It’s easy to drift or be distracted with your phone. It’s not easy for the speaker. Next time you might be listening to a talk, catch the speaker’s eye. And smile. That one tiny gesture will give more confidence to the speaker than you can imagine. A smile really is a beautiful thing.

 

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