Fake Happy? Be Happy

In one of my recent presentation skills workshop, fifteen people gave three-minute presentations.  Not one seemed happy. They seemed to take no pleasure in talking about the fascinating stuff they’re working on. These were experts: PhDs in microbiology, pharmacology, biochemistry. Two were physicians. One was a surgeon. Another a widely published neuroscientist.  And yet, they appeared to be talking from a deep well of anxiety and doubt.  None of them smiled. What is going on here?

There’s a host of happiness research that presenters can learn from. Much of it is outlined in a wonderful little book called :59 Seconds: Think A Little Change A Lot (59 Seconds). According to the book, here are three things you can do to engage your audience with happy behaviors:

  1. Smile.  Before you start talking, smile for 15 seconds. Look into the eyes of the audience and smile. I’ve been trying this on the streets of Zurich recently. I smile at complete strangers. I won’t spoil the effect – try it, you’ll see.  If you’re having trouble smiling, imagine a moment that made you smile.
  2. Stand up straight. In research done at the University of Colorado (Not all who stand tall are proud) participants were asked at random to spend three minutes sitting up straight or slumping in their chairs. They all took a math test and were asked to assess their mood. The straight-backers were much happier than the slouchers.
  3. Act happy. Research shows that happy people move in different ways from unhappy people (Achieving sustainable happiness). Watch any presentation: you know within a few seconds who’s happy. Many presenters leave their personalities outside the room. You can get your audience to pay more attention to you by acting happy. Walk to the podium in a more relaxed way. Relax your shoulders. Swing your arms a little more than usual, and stop worrying about them!  Tale with your hands. Reach toward the audience. Nod your head. Use positive words: like, love, fond, enjoy, pleased. Vary the pitch of your voice, the way you might tell a story to a friend in a bar.