When it comes to using body language to achieve presence, can you fake it till you make it? Social psychologist Amy Cuddy believes instead that you should fake it till you become it.
Cuddy’s 2012 presentation “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are,” is the second most-viewed TED talk ever, with 19 million views to date. Clearly, we’re all fascinated by body language. If we’re not trying to decipher each others’ nonverbal cues, we’re trying to learn ways to use body language to impress others.
(For tips on how to use body language effectively in any situation, see my free cheat sheet, "5 Secrets of Powerful Body Language.")
Body Language Contributes to How We Think and Feel About Ourselves
“Our bodies change our minds,” Cuddy says. Equally important, however, is a fact actors and speech coaches have always known: our body language changes how others perceive us.
An intriguing element that Cuddy and her colleagues bring to the conversation is in demonstrating that our bodies release different hormones depending upon our own self-programing. According to her findings, assuming “power poses” results in an increase in testosterone (the dominance hormone), and a decrease in cortisol (a stress hormone).
In other words, assume a power pose and you’ll feel more able to control the situation and experience less stress. Outcomes like this are of obvious importance in situations such as job interviews, public speaking, and explaining to your boss why you deserve a raise. When it comes to speaking in public or interviewing for a job, for instance, you need to know how to establish instant rapport through body language.
What Are Power Poses?
The natural world gives us plenty of examples of power poses adopted for mating rituals, territorial defense, or self-preservation. Peacocks spread their magnificent tail feathers to court females; a grizzly bear standing to defend its territory is a frightening sight; and pufferfish, who are slow swimmers, blow themselves up into a hard-to-swallow ball when threatened by predators.
We humans exhibit our own power poses, also in mating situations, public encounters, and sometimes for defense. Poses that spread our arms or position our bodies more openly apparently boost the secretion of that “good” hormone while inhibiting the release of the “bad” one, making us feel more confident and in control.
If you want to follow Cuddy’s prescription, you should adopt any of the poses in the image below prior to entering a stressful situation. They will help you come across more as who you really are, rather than the inhibited person you’re in danger of becoming, and who you don’t want around anyway:
From Nonverbal Communication to Physical Expressiveness
All of this appears to be a simple way to use body language to improve your self-confidence and effectiveness, right? Yes, as far as it goes. But if you want to be a truly dynamic speaker, you need to go one critical step further.
You have to learn how to speak with physical expressiveness.
Power poses may juice up those hormones and help you fake it till you make it, and eventually, till you become it. But effective speakers don’t fake anything.
Using body language as nature intended you to, as a tool of communication, means developing true physical expressiveness. It’s not only your hormones that need to be involved through the poses you assume—it’s your audience’s understanding of the link between what you are saying and showing.
Ultimately, that means not posing but expressing. You and I, in other words, need to find a physical expression for our messages. Think about that: how can you use your body to clarify, strengthen, and amplify the sense of what you’re saying? That truly is the value of body language in public speaking. And there's also no doubt that there are many ways body language can demonstrate leadership.
10 Body Language Techniques to Achieve Amazing Presence
What techniques can you use to accomplish this? There are the ones that come easily to mind, of course: unwavering eye contact, excellent posture, strong gestures that amplify meaning, and facial expressions that reveal a range of emotions. But other tools are equally effective, including your position on stage and your proximity to your audience.
Removing obstacles between you and your listeners (such as a lectern) is a great strategy. So is breathing with the diaphragm to power the voice—which is produced physically, after all—and using pitch inflection to point up interesting and important points. Finally, develop an awareness of using your entire body to express what you’re saying. When audiences watch a speaker who practices that last technique, they are sure to remember it.
So, assume those power poses before you enter your performance space. Once there, however, give your listeners the full effect of a body in complete synch with a mind. Passionately express your ideas physically as well as mentally and you'll give listeners the opportunity to hear and see them.
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