Improving presentation skills with power poses

Kate Samson
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The Art of HR Sucess

Making presentations to peers, management or any audience can be very stimulating for some, or the source of... 

Making presentations to peers, management or any audience can be very stimulating for some, or the source of nightmares for others; even when you know your subject thoroughly, the thought of standing in the spotlight can be crippling. However, you can learn how to get your butterflies to fly in formation and your audience will never know you were even slightly unsure of yourself.


The Research

Amy J.C. Cuddy, assistant professor at the Harvard Business School, has performed extensive research in various human areas of behaviour, feelings and control in the workplace. Her findings can help many managers become better presenters and overall more confident professionals at stress-inducing periods, like employment interviews, meetings and all in-person events.

Working with co-authors Dana Carney and Andy Yap from Columbia University, Cuddy completed a definitive study that became a wonderful article, Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance, which appeared in an issue of Psychological Science magazine (September 21, 2010).

The study concluded that learning to adopt "high-power" poses of your body for two or three minutes before an interview, meeting or presentation will increase your testosterone levels and decrease your cortisol levels. Since testosterone is associated with power and dominance in mammals and cortisol can cause hypertension and even memory loss, this simple technique can be quite valuable to anyone who suffers feelings of powerlessness, nervousness or physical upset prior to a potentially stressful "performance."

After recruiting 42 male and female subjects, they split the group into two sections. Without knowing the focus of the study, one group was encouraged to adopt high-power poses, while the other was posed in "restrictive" body positions. The researchers captured saliva samples before and after the participants' posing to compare testosterone and cortisol levels.

The saliva test revealed that the high-power pose group exhibited a testosterone increase of around 19 per cent and a cortisol decrease of approximately 25 per cent. Conversely, the low-power posers endured a cortisol increase of around 17 per cent and a testosterone decrease of around 10 per cent.


What It All Means

Human beings have body language variants, all of which are subconsciously important to their listeners or audiences. They display powerlessness through "contractive" body orientation.

For example, sitting primly in a straight-back chair with your hands folded in your lap is a closed or contractive position. You would therefore project lower self-esteem to those watching you.

Conversely, acting like a "proud peacock" will inject power, confidence and control into your psyche. Sitting comfortably with your feet up on a desk, while clasping your hands behind your head, for example, manifests a self-assured, relaxed and in-control person.

Non-verbal displays express your internal feelings about yourself and your current disposition. Body language and internal feelings play a strong role in your day-to-day workplace relationships and when making presentations to audiences, large or small.

By spending a few minutes on power posing before you enter your next meeting, interview or presentation, you will generate hormonal changes that infuse power and confidence, while decreasing those hormones that detract from your self-assuredness.

The choice of power poses is up to you. What poses make you feel powerful and confident? Is it leaning back in your chair with your feet on your desk? Leaning forward with your hands on your desktop? Leaning back against your credenza with your ankles crossed? Any pose that helps you feel confident and in control of yourself and your environment will work. You may not feel your hormonal levels changing, but they will.

For more Thought Leadership and Workforce Solution assistance contact Kelly Services at 425-8770 or email at Follow us on Twitter @KellyServicesNS. Join us on Facebook: Kelly Halifax. This article is, in part, sourced from:

Organizations: Harvard Business School, Columbia University, Psychological Science magazine Kelly Services

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Recent comments

  • George Torok
    December 17, 2011 - 11:33

    As a keynote speaker and executive speech coach, I've always suspected that one can feel more confidence by standing more confidently. It's encouraging to read about this research. Thanks.