The Big Picture: If You Do Just One Thing, Smile


In the forgotten Woody Allen classic “Broadway Danny Rose,” Allen plays Danny, a fourth-rate talent manager whose acts include a one-legged dancer, a woman who plays musical glasses, a blind xylophonist and a stuttering ventriloquist. He closes a mentoring session with one of his acts with the sage advice, “Before you go out on stage, the thing to remember is you gotta look in the mirror and say your 3 S’s — Star, Smile, Strong.”

Why on earth am I beginning a column for Mentor with a cheesy quote from a lesser-known Woody Allen movie? Well, for two reasons. First, the 3 S’s summarize an approach to engaging your audience with three simple but memorable words. Second, telling someone to smile when they’re in front of an audience — or, in your case, in a sales meeting — is very good advice. Body language counts. Besides smiling, there is a list of other things you can do nonverbally to impress your clients. Stand up while waiting for your client. Mirror his or her energy and mood. Offer a firm handshake. Exhibit good posture. Keep your hands away from the mouth and the rest of your face. Maintain eye contact. This list goes on.

It occurred to me, though, that someone trying to maximize his or her body language’s positive impact could tie himself in knots trying to do all these things. It reminds me of when I visited a career coach years ago, and she gave me an exhaustive list of job interview do’s and don’ts. In preparing for interviews, I found myself spending as much time memorizing the items on her list as I did trying to understand prospective employers’ businesses and how I was the guy to help them overcome their biggest challenges. Not surprisingly, the interviews went poorly. Rather than focus on the substance of my interviewers’ questions and my answers, I thought too much about my coach’s hundreds of interview rules, which made me come across as awkward and stiff.

When we see someone else smile, our mirror neurons make us also experience the positive emotions being displayed. And these emotions spill over — to the product, the sales rep, and the consumer in one big happy chain reaction.

This is why I emphatically don’t offer a laundry list of body language do’s and don’ts. But it did make me think: if there was one body language suggestion that all salespeople should follow, what would it be? Smile. Why did I pick this ultimate cliché of a suggestion? I honestly believe smiling gives you the most bang for your buck. As the old Dean Martin song says, “When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you.”

And science backs Martin up. A 2015 article in the Journal of Consumer Marketing concluded that smiling faces in ads elicited more customer joy and caused customers to like the advertised product more.1 That’s because, the article explains, a smile achieves these feelings through emotional contagion. When we see someone else smile, our mirror neurons make us also experience the positive emotions being displayed. And these emotions spill over on — to the product, the sales rep, and the consumer in one big, happy chain reaction!

But not just any smile will work — the smile you share with others should involve your mouth and eyes, which is known as the Duchenne smile. Some people are natural smilers. They smile often and their smiles are 100% Duchenne. Others’ smiles need a little coaxing. Some people say that you can only get the muscles around the eye to smile if there’s genuine positive emotion, while others say you can practice your way into getting your eye muscles in on the smiling act. I think it depends on the person.

Here are some tips to help you display positive body language through the art of smiling:

  • Practice smiling regularly each day.
  • Practice the “silly rabbit” by smiling as widely as possible while wiggling your nose.
  • Put the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth behind your teeth when smiling.
  • When trying to smile, don’t say “cheese” but do say words that end in a long “a” like “yoga.”
  • Get an assist from your dentist.

These are all physical fixes. I personally prefer the emotional route: put yourself in a happy frame of mind and then the smiles flow naturally. Talk to an upbeat friend, view pictures of smiling faces on your smartphone, recall a happy moment, or watch funny video clips like scenes from “Broadway Danny Rose.”


  1. New Neuro Marketing. The Truth Behind Why Smiles Sell And What This Means For Your Ads. Available at: Accessed December 27, 2017.

From MENTOR. February 2018;9(2): 12-13.

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