Amy Cuddy’s wonderful book, Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges, published in 2015, begins with a story of her traumatic brain injury leading to her lifelong interest in body language and the deep connections between body and mind. Those of you who have read my book Power Cues: The Subtle Science of Leading Groups, Persuading Others, and Maximizing your Personal Impact, published in 2014, will know that it begins with my story of my traumatic brain injury leading to my lifelong interest in body language and the deep connections between body and mind.

So that’s weird. Or cool. But I wonder, do you have to get hit over the head to wake up to the connections going on here?

On to Cuddy’s book. I’ve argued with her via the Internet about the relative importance of power poses and mental self-talk. Her TED talk suggested that all you had to do was adopt a power pose – standing like Wonder Woman, for example – and you would boost your testosterone (gaining confidence) and lower your cortisol (decreasing stress) and thus improve your subsequent performance.

That bothered me, because my experience and work with my clients suggests that the unconscious mind will still send up those little thoughts that undermine your confidence if all you do is power pose. I feel ridiculous. I’m going to go blank. I’m an imposter. No one will believe me. You also need to work directly on the unconscious mind by affirming your confidence or success or whatever is your particular need. I thought Cuddy was missing a trick by not addressing the whole unconscious mind – body movement – conscious thought progression.

So I was thrilled to read Presence, because in it Cuddy clearly spells out the importance of both affirmation and strong body language to creating presence, which is what she calls the happy confluence of confidence, comfort, and expressiveness in the moment. Or, to quote Cuddy’s definition: “the state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values and potential.”

Amen. Presence is showing up. It’s not having your body language undercut what you’re trying to express. It’s having the power to say what you need to say. It’s believing that you have the spaciousness and control to share your passion and be heard. It’s not having to think about how the other people in the room are grading you, or categorizing you, or ignoring your contribution. It’s feeling a little bit nervous, but being OK with the nervousness, because what you’re doing is important. The nervousness simply doesn’t get in the way. You blow past it because what you’re doing is what matters.

Presence is believing your own story. It’s presenting your authentic best self. It’s showing up.

Cuddy has a few great questions to ask yourself to help focus on that moment of presence and what it feels like:

  • “What three words best describe you as an individual?
  • What is unique about you that leads to your happiest times and best performance?
  • Reflect on a specific time—at work or at home – when you were acting in a way that felt ‘natural’ and ‘right’. How can you repeat that behavior today?
  • What are your signature strengths and how can you use them?

 

I love these questions and heartily commend them to everyone, as well as the practice of developing your presence through the practice of confident body language and self-affirmation.

I recommend Cuddy’s book in the highest possible terms. It’s a presence game-changer.

 

 

4 Comments

  1. Great review, Nick. Here’s something I took away from our interview with Amy, specifically regarding affirmations…. She reiterated that Stuart Smalley-esque affirmations aren’t of much value. It’s not about going in saying, “I’m smart…. I’m good looking…..” etc. Rather, go into the meeting or presentation affirming what is true.

    For example, if I happen to be feeling a bit nervous before going into a presentation, I like to affirm, “I have done my homework. I know this session will provide value. This session has received rave reviews in the past.”

    I appreciated her emphasis on affirming what is true, not just wishful thinking. And I give your review, and her book, two thumbs up! Have a great weekend!

    1. Hi, Andy —

      I agree completely on the nature of the affirmation. This is not “The Secret” where you affirm a million dollars and it shows up on your doorstep. Rather, you’re addressing a specific fear in your unconscious mind, and replacing it with a positive alternative. It’s similar to the mental constructs that Olympic athletes create for their runs and routines so that their unconscious minds don’t sabotage them. And thanks for the thumbs up!

  2. Sounds like an interesting read. I really enjoyed Amy’s TED and PopTech talks. Before giving a big presentation, I find power poses very helpful.

    Just this week I came across a great YouTube channel called Charisma On Command. One of the clips mentions an aspect of visualisation that rarely if ever seems to come up. That is, visualising how you’ll overcome specific challenges – not just how you’ll feel when you triumph! Here’s a link to the recap at the end of that video.

    1. Thanks, Craig — that “aspect of visualisation that rarely comes up” is precisely what I describe as Power Cue #6 in my book, FYI.

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