The high status person looks out at the world. The low status person looks at himself.
I’ve heard a lot about the book Presence by Amy Cuddy, and you might have too if you read My Next 20 Books post. It was first the captivating bright yellow cover that drew me to this self-development book. Upon reading the inside sleeve, I was hooked.
Here is the Amazon review:
Have you ever left a nerve-racking challenge and immediately wished for a do over? Maybe after a job interview, a performance, or a difficult conversation? The very moments that require us to be genuine and commanding can instead cause us to feel phony and powerless. Too often we approach our lives’ biggest hurdles with dread, execute them with anxiety, and leave them with regret.
By accessing our personal power, we can achieve “presence,” the state in which we stop worrying about the impression we’re making on others and instead adjust the impression we’ve been making on ourselves. As Harvard professor Amy Cuddy’s revolutionary book reveals, we don’t need to embark on a grand spiritual quest or complete an inner transformation to harness the power of presence. Instead, we need to nudge ourselves, moment by moment, by tweaking our body language, behavior, and mind-set in our day-to-day lives.
Amy Cuddy has galvanized tens of millions of viewers around the world with her TED talk about “power poses.” Now she presents the enthralling science underlying these and many other fascinating body-mind effects, and teaches us how to use simple techniques to liberate ourselves from fear in high-pressure moments, perform at our best, and connect with and empower others to do the same.
Brilliantly researched, impassioned, and accessible, Presence is filled with stories of individuals who learned how to flourish during the stressful moments that once terrified them. Every reader will learn how to approach their biggest challenges with confidence instead of dread, and to leave them with satisfaction instead of regret.
Maybe it is my undergraduate degree in psychology, but I love research-based books that examine personal cognition in a social context, and Presence is just that.
Amy defines presence as,
believing in and trusting yourself, your real, honest feelings, values, and abilities.
Now, presence sounds a lot like confidence, but it goes deeper. I would define presence as the outward expression of confidence.
Presence is a calm and steady voice, regal posture, and a firm hand shake. Presence is talking first, speaking slowing, and guiding the conversations to topics you are passionate about. Presence is a long stride and a large personal bubble.
Cuddy argues all of these displays of non-verbal behavior demonstrate one thing: that you are confident and in charge. When a person with presence enters a room, her long gait displays power and purpose. His firm hand shake and velvet voice exhibits control. Speaking with her hands and proper posture increases her personal space, exuding ownership of the place she is in. His slow speaking represents that he is not afraid to be interrupted and believes his words are worth another’s time. These powerful displays of body language help captivate your audience, which allows you to be better understood and more impactful.
To demonstrate this point, Cuddy discusses a study examining which qualities are most important when allocating funds to new business ventures. Not surprisingly, researchers found that venture capitalist invest with people who display confidence, high comfort levels, and passionate enthusiasm. In essence, the presenters with the most presence.
Throughout her book, Cuddy examines many other situations where strong presence, specifically non-verbal expressions of power and dominance, helped the subject achieve a goal. Whether it is passing a test, acing an interview, or negotiating a larger salary, presence is key.
So here is the big question Cuddy set out to solve: How can we increase our presence?
Based on the research that had been previously established, Cuddy understood that our body language can change others’ perceptions of ourselves. But what if our body language could change our perception of ourself? What if we could fake our way to greater presence?
The first experiment was simple: if we smile when we are happy, would the inverse be true as well: Could smiling make us feel happier? Researchers tested this by placing a pencil between participants teeth, forcing their mouth into a smiling position. I doubt a degree in psychology is necessary to see where this is going. It worked. Participants later rated themselves as more happy post-experiment. This sparked Cuddy to research ways we could increase a person’s perceived power and dominance.
Enter the power pose. Lean back in your chair with your legs spread open and arm tossed over the top of another chair, stand tall with your hands on your hips, or extend your arms out over your head with your chin slightly raised. If you opted for Manspreading, Wonder Woman, or Victory, spending just two minutes in this pose has already increased your presence.
Whether looking at job interview outcomes or measuring the hormones testosterone and cortisol, which represent dominance and stress respectively, the experiments clearly demonstrated that putting our bodies into high power poses make us feel more powerful. As Cuddy says, we can “fake it until we become it.”
More than anything, this book reaffirmed the importance of confidence. As someone who identifies with having high confidence, I have been asked before where my confidence comes from. Honestly, that is a hard question to answer because, although reaching my current level of confidence has been a journey, it has always been innately a part of me. Presence offers tangible ways to increase your confidence through body language. Simply sitting up straight can make a world of difference before we are put in an evaluative situation, like an interview. The hunched position we take while using our phone reflects a low-power position. So next time you think to scroll through Instagram to distract yourself before that job interview, think again.
I highly recommend this book if you are interested in learning about ways to increase your perceived confidence. Presence is an entertaining, informative, and relative read, especially for women. It is time to change our traditional display of low-power non-verbal behaviors, and Cuddy’s work can teach us how.
Which power pose do you identify best with? Let us know below.