Amy Cuddy is a young Harvard professor attracting attention for her scientific research into why the way we stand, sit and move affects how we feel, and consequentially, our assertiveness and our ability to secure a job or perform in front of an audience. Cuddy argues that we need to feel confident to be a good speaker because it allows us to free our minds from concern about how others perceive us and concentrate fully on presenting our ideas and opinions. Without internal distractions, and if we believe what we are saying, we will present more fluently and persuasively. She believes that confidence is driven as much by the way we hold our bodies as by our inner mental state.
And there is chemistry behind Cuddy’s theory. A top Cuddy ‘tip’ is to hold the superwoman (or man) pose for at least two minutes before addressing an audience. This way, she says, your body tells your mind that you are powerful and present. She describes experiments that show that if we ‘expand’ our bodies, like animals that stand their ground when challenged, then our testosterone levels immediately increase and our confidence and assertiveness grows. Conversely, if we stand or sit in a stooped, contracted position then it is our cortisol levels that increase, promoting anxiety and stress.
Cuddy suggests we will behave more dominantly if we open our arms, stand with our feet planted well apart and push out our chests when we take to the platform. Not only will we appear more confident, we will also feel more assertive because we are producing more testosterone. We will express our ideas fluently and articulately because we will feel powerful, and not distracted by worrying about the impression we are making. We will be fully ‘present’ which will communicate itself to the audience.
If Cuddy is right, it is a fantastic insight and valuable routine for public speaking preparations. There can’t be any harm in trying out the pose and testing the theory. But I feel that there is still a case for substance over style, and I’m sure Cuddy would agree. The technique is one tool rather than a magic bullet and there is no substitute for planning and strong content.
Listen to Amy’s Ted talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are?language=en