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The Goal is Presence: Lessons from Amy Cuddy’s Book

by PowerSpeaking, Inc.     Jul 20, 2016 1:08:37 PM


“The state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express true thoughts, feelings, values and potential.” 

This is how Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy defines Presence in her book of the same name. 

Cuddy has followed up her "fake it until you become it" TED talk, which illuminates the positive effects of ‘power posing’ on confidence, with this new work, subtitled “Bringing Your BOLDEST SELF to your BIGGEST CHALLENGES.”  presence.png

While her original research has been criticized by some (Gelman and Fung, “The Power of the Power Pose,” Slate), Cuddy cites a wide variety of other studies in Presence to support her premise that we all have the power within us to reverse self-doubt and performance anxiety by using our bodies to convince our minds that we do feel powerful and can project confidence, even in stressful situations.

At PowerSpeaking, we know that speaking in front of a group of technical experts or executives can be stressful.  That’s why we find Cuddy’s work so useful in our classes and with our coaching clients. Namely:

Making a Positive Impression on Yourself!

While it is important to be audience-centric when preparing your talk, Cuddy suggests that most of us worry too much about the impression we are making on others when we are actually in front of the room.   Instead, we should make sure we are making a positive impression on ourselves.   This means reflecting on our values, our strengths and those things about us that allow us to reveal our “authentic best self.”   When we are revealing our best self, we are believable, and credibility is enhanced.

You Give Yourself Away

Part of being our “authentic best self” is believing our own stories, our data, and our content.   Cuddy suggests that when we don’t believe in what we are saying, we start to give non-verbal cues that signal the disbelief.   Our gestures are incongruent with our words, and as we have told thousands of our workshop participants, that causes our audience to become distracted. Further, in executive presentations, senior level audiences look for clues that we either are or are not 100% buying what we are pitching.

 Trustworthiness First...And Competence Follows

Being present requires effective listening. Cuddy maintains that most people want to be seen as competent and trustworthy, but she cites research that suggests most of us judge trustworthiness before we judge competence and that trust is the conduit of influence. That’s why, in our Speaking Up workshops, we teach listening at the highest level –meaning effective presenters listen to what is not being said as much as what is being said, and they read the room to determine whether the audience is paying attention. If we don’t get and keep the audience’s attention, which includes listening to signal that we are present, the message is meaningless.

Focus on the Body and the Feelings Follow

Cuddy devotes several chapters in Presence to breaking “the myth that the body, brain and mind are separate and autonomous entities.”  She cites hundreds of studies that show the impact of inducing feelings of happiness, power and other positive emotions simply by focusing on facial expressions and other forms of expressive body language.  This is why in our workshops, we encourage our participants to “take up space” with their bodies, whether they are in front of a room of 100 people, or alone in a conference room delivering a global webinar. Cuddy suggests that when we take up space with our bodies, our minds are positively impacted, and we create a feeling of power in a positive sense. And without power, we cannot be present.

So just how transformative can Cuddy’s work be in the world of successful presentations?   If we follow all of her advice, will we transform quickly and absolutely? No, because “presence” comes and goes.   Some of us have to work much harder than others to get it and maintain it.   But with small, incremental changes, transformation can occur. Cuddy devotes a later chapter in the book to the idea of “self-nudges.”   These are tiny tweaks that help us –a little bit at a time—step outside the walls of our own fear, anxiety and powerlessness.  

When we teach presentation skills, we tell participants to focus on one upgrade at a time. Master it, and move on to the next. But always remember: the goal is not perfection. The goal is Presence.

Here is the referenced Amy Cuddy – TED Talk, "Your body language shapes who you are" https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are?language=en

Download our four takeaways from Amy Cuddy's new book.   

Related Blog Posts: 10 Tips On Confident, Credible Delivery50 Tips to Turn Your Next Talk Into An Extraordinary PresentationWhat Do You Do with Your Hands as a Presenter?–Tips by The Washington Post

About the Author

PowerSpeaking, Inc.

Topics: Presentation Tips, TED talks, Gestures, Presentation Delivery, Effective Listening, Body Language, Presence, Amy Cuddy

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