Have you ever been in a stressful situation—like a job interview—and been caught up in your own thoughts, worrying about what people think of you or your performance? In her landmark book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, Amy Cuddy offers practical tips for handling these situations, so that you can be your most authentic self even in high-pressure moments. Cuddy is a psychology researcher and a professor at Harvard Business School, and her strategy involves making simple changes to your posture and behavior that can boost your confidence and enhance your personal power.
In our series of “Book Bite Classics,” we share five key insights from groundbreaking, beloved books that everyone should read. Below you’ll find one big idea from Presence—to read or listen to the remaining four, download the Next Big Idea App today.
Big Idea: Use the mind-body connection to increase presence.
When animals are exhibiting power or dominance, they make themselves larger. Think of a peacock, holding up all of its tail feathers to make itself seem bigger and more intimidating. And the same is true for humans. When somebody wins a race or does something impressive in an athletic competition, they often throw their hands up in the air, signaling their power to their audience.
When we feel intimidated or powerless, we make ourselves smaller—slouching and crossing our ankles are two common examples. We collapse in on ourselves, and as a result, we look small and powerless to the people observing us.
The most important thing, however, is that our body language doesn’t just communicate to other people—it also communicates to our subconscious selves. So when we’re slouching in our chairs and making ourselves smaller, we’re also telling ourselves that we don’t deserve to be here, that we’re weak and powerless. This is why “power posing” is so meaningful. Not because of the impression it gives to someone else—an impression that we don’t want to force anyway, lest we seem inauthentic—but because of the signals it gives to ourselves. When you sit up straight and plant your feet, you’re telling yourself that you belong where you are, and that you merit taking up space.
Here are some techniques to try: before a big interview or presentation or some other experience that makes you nervous, stand up tall with your hands on your hips. Open your shoulders and plant your feet firmly. When you’re standing up giving your presentation, open up your stance and place your hands firmly on a table or podium in front of you. When you’re sitting in a chair, lean back and put your hands behind your head, or drape your arm over the back of the chair next to you. As a result, you may find yourself feeling more powerful—and ready to take on the world.
To read or listen to the rest of this Book Bite, download the Next Big Idea App today: