I have and will always maintain that a weapon every speaker should carry around in their arsenal is the ability to fire up a genuine beaming smile on demand.
Actually, scratch that statement. Everyone, speaker or no, should learn how to smile on cue. And by smile, I mean the sort of eye-crinkling, cheek raising smile that people give when they are truly happy to be where they are and doing what they’re doing.
Why is being able to smile like this so important? Because genuine smiles show signal to your audience that you are interested in them. They engender trust and foster happiness in both the person smiling and being smiled at. They make you seem more approachable and open. They make you more likable and will trigger your audience to smile back at you.
Even better, a beaming smile can hide the fact that you are nervous, tired, panicky, irate, desperate, generally out-of-sorts, and otherwise freaking out!
“But Lauren,” some may protest, “I just couldn’t smile! Everything was going completely wrong with the presentation/speech/situation!” Ahh, my friends, that is when the ability to feign a genuine smile becomes absolutely necessary. Case in point: a photograph of me performing during a particularly disastrous show at a local Lebanese restaurant.
(Please excuse the odd blurriness of the photo – it is quite hard to get a good shot in those lighting conditions.)
Most people see a picture of a happy belly dancer demonstrating her art, inviting a customer up to dance. Here is an actual summary of the scene:
- Due to an equipment malfunction, my carefully arranged 20 minute set wouldn’t play*, so…
- I was improvising to live music provided by the in-house musician who, unbeknownst to me, likes it when dancers do long sets, which means that…
- This photo was taken 40 minutes into what ended up being a 45 minute set…
- Having no idea when the set would end…
- In a costume I had never performed in before and was a little too long for me…
- While 16 weeks pregnant (with all the exhausted, bloated discomfort that comes with that prenatal period).
In the photo, I am imploring the woman – an acquaintance who came out to see my performance – to get up and dance with me. This would encourage other customers to get up and dance, which is quite desirable. That grin you see plastered on my face had been there for well over half an hour, and I was begging, begging, begging her with my eyes to get up and dance.
Believe me when I say that I did not feel like smiling at that moment in time. I was, to put it bluntly, freaking out. But at that time, my job was to be a glamorous belly dancer who entertained the customers while exuding joy, grace, class, musical knowledge, technical aptitude, and general bonhomie. That means smiling. If needs be, I would have smiled until my cheek bones shattered (which, by the end, was exactly what they felt like).
Despite the general wretchedness of my situation and my state of intense panic, the performance was apparently well received. The customers got up and danced, and in an uncharacteristic move, actually tipped me.** Later I found out from my dance instructor, who arranges these gigs, that the musician was heartily pleased with me and very glad that I was so willing and able to dance energetically for the full 45 minutes. This reception is quite contrary to the information my own brain retained, which is best summarized as a long, agonized wail.
I have never been so happy that I can smile so realistically and so relentlessly.
Practice your smile, folks. Figure out how to make it look real. Sometimes it is the thing that saves the situation from utter disaster!
*Due to a faulty set up on the mixing board, the sound on my pre-recorded set went haywire about five minutes into the performance. The in-house musician, who was in charge of the sound system, mixing board, and keyboard, frantically waved my husband over to help, and then tried to skip ahead to my next song. This was a bad move, as I create my sets by re-mixing multiple songs into one single track. I had borrowed this particular MP3 player from my mother-in-law. She happens to like really terrible country pop music. Many belly dancers say you can dance to any kind of music. I disagree. You cannot belly dance to really terrible country pop. It was the most
horrifying hilarious 5 seconds of dancing I have ever had to get through.
**Part of me wonders if they were tipping me out of pity (“oh, that poor white girl is really giving it all she’s got”). Perhaps the tipping was out of admiration for my endurance of the never-ending-set – we usually only dance for 20 minutes. While I can expect to receive generous tips from the Greek restaurants, the regular customers at this particular restaurant are not known to be avid tippers. Different restaurants can have different customs.