How to smile naturally in a conversation
By David Morin
Smiling can seem basic, but the majority of people smile the wrong way.
So bear with me, because even something as fundamental as a smile can make people come off as nervous, or even creepy if done slightly the wrong way or slightly at the wrong time.
How to avoid fake smiles
When we feel nervous, we often smile without using our eyes. These smiles look fake because they signal that you’re not genuine.
The natural smile comes automatically when you’re comfortable. However, as we often feel a bit nervous in social situations, it can help to learn a technique for how to smile with your eyes.
The genuine smile technique
1. Standing in front of a mirror, think back on something that makes you genuinely happy.
2. Notice how your cheeks are lifted slightly.
3. Now, repeat that smile by focusing on your eyes. The corners of your mouth should raise more as a side effect of activating your eyes.
4. Memorize the feeling in your cheeks. Whenever you smile, let your eyes be the activators and try to recreate that feeling in your cheeks.
As your social confidence increase and you enjoy social situations more, your smile will automatically become genuine without you having to think about it, and this should, of course, be the end goal.
Use your eyes to make your smile natural in a conversation
Take a look at the image of me smiling below and notice how the images to the right look natural, confident, attractive and enjoys the situation. The person to the left appears less attractive, and perhaps even a bit afraid. That’s how powerful smiling with the eyes is.
Like with the posture I spoke about in the previous chapter, using a genuine smile will take some time to learn. Remember how I spoke about remembering the slightly stretching feeling in your stomach? In the same way, memorize the feeling in your upper cheeks when you’re smiling with your eyes.
Isn’t it amazing how you, by doing something as basic as raising your chest and cheeks, can transform into someone who looks more attractive and confident in just a second?
How to smile to look more confident and attractive
People who smile too much, too little, or smile in an insincere way often come off as nervous. However, there are a few tricks that you can use to come off as more confident and attractive when smiling. Here’s how to do it.
Perhaps you’ve noticed how you and others start smiling when you feel nervous.
A famous scientist named Paul Ekman discovered that when we feel nervous or afraid, we try to cover up our nervous facial expression by putting on a smile. We do this subconsciously.
We are actually quite bad at not showing any facial expression when we feel emotionally affected, so to hide how we feel we have to cover one expression with another.
People subconsciously pick up on an insincere smile. Because of this, having a constant grin on your face when you feel nervous and you meet someone, looks insincere.
On the other hand, not smiling at all will ALSO make us look nervous. This is because some people, instead of putting on a smile, tension their muscles when they feel nervous and that creates a stiff facial expression.
So when should you smile to come off as relaxed and outgoing, then?
It’s actually quite simple. When you start a conversation, there are only four moments when you should smile.
- The first few seconds you meet someone. Here, a natural smile shows that you are glad about meeting the other person, that you have nothing to hide and that you enjoy the moment.
- Whenever the other person is smiling. Forgetting to smile when someone else is will obviously make the other person feel insecure. “Why didn’t he/she smile? Did I say something wrong?”
- Whenever it’s proper because of the conversation. Someone’s telling something that’s fun for both of you, or the situation is funny for both of you.
- Whenever you’re about to take off. It signals that you like the person, that you have enjoyed your conversation and it will reassure the other person that you’re up for meeting again.
People who smile more often or less often than these four moments risk to come off as less confident.
The scientist that I mentioned before, Paul Ekman, also discovered how we tend to only smile with one side when we feel uncomfortable. To be more specific, smiling with only one side is a sign of disbelief.
That’s good stuff to know. If you, say, explain an idea for someone and that person only smiles on one side, he or she probably hasn’t bought into your idea.
To come off as sincere and genuine, smile with both sides of your face.
Using a loud voice when needed
Adapt the volume of your voice to match the conversation and situation. That means, despite some pick-up advice on how to always use a loud voice, to connect with people and make friends, you should use the same voice volume as they’re using.
The problem occurs if we’re in a loud environment or if we don’t feel comfortable in the situation. When this happens, we tend to use a voice too low.
If you’re experiencing that people aren’t listening to you or interrupt you, pay attention to the level of your voice. Another common reason for being interrupted is not keeping eye contact, which I’ll cover below.
Sometimes speaking up in a conversation demands some practice. There are two reasons for this.
1. Sometimes we feel uncomfortable using a loud voice
The solution here is what I spoke about in chapter 2, to build stronger confidence in social situations. As you gradually notice how you improve socially, trusting your own ability comes automatically over time.
You can accelerate this process by pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone and practice using a slightly louder voice, first when you’re alone, then with close friends, then in larger groups, etc.
2. We don’t have the voice resources needed
Like you’ve probably heard several times before, you’re supposed to speak from your stomach. That’s easier said than done, and I will teach you a trick for how do find your stomach support and get a more powerful voice instantly.
3-step technique for an instantly more powerful voice:
This is one of those techniques I didn’t believe would work before I tried it, so I urge you to actually try it out, you’ll notice the difference instantly!
First, try talking using a purposely bad posture by:
- Hunching forward.
- Lifting your chin up.
- Now, try to speak from your stomach. Talk to yourself in front of the mirror and pay attention to your voice. How does it sound?
Next, try this:
- Lift your chest up so that you notice how your belly stretches out slightly.
- Push your chin down so that you are tilting your head just slightly forward.
- Now, try speaking from your stomach again. Notice the difference?
If not, try to angle your hip slightly upward
A good posture won’t just make you look more attractive, it will also give you a more powerful voice.
Whenever you need a more powerful voice, speak from your stomach while lifting your chest up and lowering your chin down.
Eye contact in a conversation
Keeping eye contact the right way gives you several benefits in life. However, here are two challenges you need to overcome.
1. When we feel uncomfortable, it’s like gravity is pulling our eyes to the ground. You need to deal with keeping eye contact even when it feels difficult.
2. Keeping eye contact at the wrong moment or in the wrong way may come off as creepy or too intense. We will look at how to in the best way calibrate eye contact.
How to keep eye contact even if it feels difficult
It can sometimes feel difficult to keep eye contact when we aren’t comfortable or when we’re with people we see as above us in social status. As an example, it’s probably easier for you to keep eye contact with people who you feel are less confident than you are. It’s a pattern we see from the animal world, it’s the alpha male who wins the stare-downs.
Here’s how to deal with that:
1. Take people down from their pedestal:
Earlier in this guide, I spoke about how people are more nervous than they look.
Practice visualizing people for who they are by observing people and trying to feel their insecurities.
What is it about them that they might feel insecure about? When you realize that everyone has flaws that they are uncomfortable with, you meet them more on your own level, and your brain won’t feel as submissive. Keeping eye contact becomes easier the more empathic we become.
This method is effective but you will need to practice it for a few weeks before it takes effect. Next up is a method that’s more of a quick fix.
2. Know what to say next:
Another reason for avoiding eye contact is that we don’t know what to say next.
It’s a bit like when the teacher in class asks something and the students look away to not get picked to answer. In the initial part of the conversation, it helps to memorize a few initial questions that you can always fall back on. Secondly, keep your focus on what the other person is telling you and try to come up with questions regarding that. This is the easiest way to keep any conversation going. When you feel confident in knowing what to say next, it will be easier to keep eye contact as well.
The danger of keeping too much eye contact or keeping eye contact at the wrong moment
Eye contact is a powerful thing that creates strong emotions inside of us. The power of eye contact increases when it’s exchanged during silence – looking at someone during silence can both create attraction and aggression, depending on the context.
Here are some guidelines on when to keep eye contact to create a close connection with someone without being too intense.
In social situations, the most obvious things become difficult as there are so many things going on in our heads already.
Statistically speaking, you’re failing at several of these points, so I recommend you to read through the list and reflect on how you act in each situation.
Someone starts talking
Always keep eye contact whenever someone starts talking. If not, the other person won’t be sure whether you’re listening or not. When you’re at a social gathering and there’s a lot of things happening around you, it’s easy to forget this. If you look somewhere else when someone has started talking, he or she might even take offense.
As the other person is talking
Pay attention to how much the person is looking at you. Give the same amount of eye contact back. If the other person isn’t looking that much at you but you’re constantly keeping eye contact, you might come off as too intense.
The person takes a pause Keeping eye contact during a pause pushes the person to continue talking. It can be good if he or she just told a cliffhanger. If not, a rule of thumb is to look away whenever here. If you want someone to continue talking, you can maintain eye contact and give a quick “triple nod”, which will subconsciously tell the other person to continue talking. Try it out, it’s a great hack!
You start talking
Always keep eye contact. People will feel confused if you aren’t clear that you’re talking to them.
Starting a conversation without eye contact comes off as nervous. However, research shows that if you need to solve a conflict, it can be a good idea to look away when you’re talking- this shows that you aren’t picking a fight due to the submissiveness of looking away. So – to solve conflicts, look away. To look confident – keep eye contact.
You continue to talk
It’s almost shocking how fast people zone out if you don’t look at them when you’re talking to them. Talking and looking away for too long periods of time will make them assume that you’re just thinking out loud.
The only exception to eye contact here is if it’s in a setting where it’s unnatural to keep eye contact, like walking side by side. Here, it’s enough to give occasional glances.
You’re taking a pause talking
Here it’s natural to look away unless you want to create attention before what you’re about to say next.
During silence, or when a third person is talking
Only look at those in the group who aren’t talking if you want to signal something, for example, that you’re attracted to the person or that you reacted to something that happened.
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