This version of the Monthly Memo offers the most overlooked and undervalued piece of advice for anyone who stands up to speak on behalf of themselves, their cause or their employer. For anyone old enough to remember, the Summer of Love overtook the USA ever so briefly back in 1967. Flower Power and VW Mini-buses dominated the pop culture scene, fueled from the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco. So? Should you walk into your next presentation or news conference with a flower in your hair? You can, but I’m talking about something even more fundamental in the life of a great communicator.
Just like back 40 years ago, this idea is simple and powerful. In the years I’ve worked with clients on presentations, it is the most common piece of advice I offer. Almost every time it is necessary to bring it up and it surprises me every time. No matter the nature or mission of the presentation, I find it is necessary to remind people to do one thing: smile.
It is the most basic form of positive human communication – and also the most ignored. Why? Often the person at the front of room has a lot on their mind, and therefore they forget about the simple stuff, like smiling. They are so weighed down with the things they want to get across they just end up not being very good at getting any of it across because they forget to connect with the people to whom they are speaking!
But, you say, I can’t be up there smiling. I have very important, sometimes life-and-death messages that I have to get out. I can’t be up there smiling like some new version of Jimmy Carter! Ah, but you can, because it all comes down to what kind of smile you have to offer, and there are many options to chose from. Just make sure you are first using a GENUINE smile. You know the kind. The kind of smile that includes your eyes and your forehead — the kind that comes from somewhere deep inside. We’ve all seen the opposite. The kind that looks like it’s offered up because someone made a note in the margin of their notes that says, ‘Smile here!’ Ugh.
A smile, more than any other form of communication, says one very simple thing: “I care about you.” And there isn’t a more important message you can hope to communicate than that one. The smile has to come from the words you are speaking, from the message you are trying to deliver and from your connection to that audience.
And what if it’s a tough message – and there are some people in the audience you just don’t care for? All the more important, because a genuine smile is the last thing they are expecting from you! So take a piece of advice from our Summer of Love ancestors and offer up a smile next time you are delivering your message. If it’s real, it may be the most important thing you say.