A Beijing Smile Story

A smile is the universal sign of friendship. It cuts across all cultures, all ages, and all genders. In public speaking it is one sure way to bridge the gap between speaker and audience. But when I coach my clients to smile, they often resist. They tell me that they “just don’t smile” or that “smiling is frowned upon in a business presentation.” To this, I say, “Nonsense!

I heard a great smile story recently. At the Olympics, thousands of people competed to fill volunteer positions as good will ambassadors. Once selected, their job was to walk through the streets of Beijing spreading peace, joy, calm, and happiness. Like all emissaries they were trained to be poised—to stand erect and with dignity, to move slowly and gracefully, to tilt and nod their heads, and most important, to smile.

As it turned out, the smile training was the most rigorous. The volunteers practiced many days and many hours rehearsing this one smile technique: to show just eight teeth. How did they practice this perfect smile? By holding a chop stick in their mouth until they got it right. I don’t use that technique in my work with clients (at least not yet!), but I do encourage my clients to practice their smile so that when they stand up in front of a group their smile is ready to bridge the gap between them and their audience.

And if you want to show more than eight teeth—you have my blessing.