Back in the day when I taught public speaking at Princeton, one of the bits of bad news the students found most unfair was the attractiveness bias.  Basically, psychologists have found over and over again that more attractive people have an unfair advantage when it comes to attracting partners, getting hired, getting paid, being perceived as being more intelligent, and so on down the list of Things That Are Particularly Important to College Seniors Getting Ready for the Real World.

It’s even got a name:  the attractiveness halo.  I would tell the students, “it’s not fair, and life isn’t fair.  Get used to it.”

Then I’d stand back and let them hate on me for a while until they felt better.

And then I’d hit them with: “how can you make yourself more attractive?”  Mostly they felt this question was unfair, too, because you can’t – attractiveness is the face you’re born with, at least when you’re 21.  I didn’t bother to tell them the old saying that “under 40, you have the face God gave you; over 40 you have the face you deserve.”

Alas, I’ve learned the truth of that saying by now.  But with those students, I was after a different insight.  I’d point out to them that everyone looks more attractive when they smile, and so the simplest way to increase your odds of success as a speaking, and in life, was to smile more often.

Don’t smile inappropriately, of course, when you’re delivering bad news, but do smile when you can.  It will make your audience think you’re more intelligent, more attractive, and more cogent in the points that you’re making.

And now along comes a study that finds that sleeping could be your next best option.  When you’re short on sleep, the study found, you tend to have a slight frown on your (resting) face and you tend to narrow your eyes.

Both aspects of human expression make you look more stupid.

The catch, of course, is that if you’re prepping enough as a speaker, you’re probably not getting enough sleep.  So you’ll naturally have those half-closed eyes and frowning face.  And your audience will think you’re dumber than you actually are.  And your speech will be less successful.

But armed with the knowledge of the study, you can do one of two things to combat this desperate state of affairs.  You can either open your eyes consciously and smile more, or you can get more sleep.

It’s your call, but let’s just point out that opening your eyes consciously for longer than it takes to read that phrase is hard.  Under the glare of the lights and the scrutiny of the crowd, it will be even harder.

Smiling is a little easier, but again hard to keep up unless you’re at a comics convention.

The alternative is looking better and better, isn’t it?  The best prep of all for your speech may be to get plenty of sleep.

How hard is that?

I’m going to go take a nap right now.  And I urge all the speakers out there to do the same.

News Flash! Speaking of improving your speaking – We’re going to run our popular one-day Powerful Public Speaking workshop again on Tuesday October 24th. Spaces strictly limited.  Sign up and join us!


  1. Interesting side note: smiling while you speak is a skill you can practice and master. The same goes for laughing while you speak, which helps slow you down, loosen you up, and promotes speaking from the diaphragm.

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