My favourite TED talk has to be Amy Cuddy’s talk on power poses. It is a simple idea, that changing your body language, using powerful poses and taking up space can change your life, and if we all do it, we can change the world. Through her research, she found that striking “power poses ” such as the victory V (arms in the air) before key tasks including job interviews increased confidence, reduced stress and lead to greater success. She linked the poses to hormonal changes including increased testosterone and reduced cortisol.
Cuddy presents some convincing evidence to support her argument, but it is her own story of overcoming the feeling that didn’t belong I need academia that is so engaging. Apparently, she hadn’t planned to tell this story and it is her authenticity and willingness to be vulnerable that is so moving. If you haven’t seen it already, watch it now.
As someone who has struggled with shyness, often feeling that I didn’t fit in and dreading being the centre of attention, I really related to her story of overcoming these barriers. Her solution is to deliberately use powerful, confident body language, and “fake it until you become it”. She suggests practicing powerful poses before key events such as job interviews or presentations.
I often talk to young people (usually girls) who are fearful of making presentations, sometimes to the point of avoiding opportunities, and I’ve shared my story. I too used to be terrified of presentations, but, after avoiding them all through school, I realised I had to get over the fear. It was preventing me doing things that I wanted to do and knew I was capable of. Part of the Careers Adviser role is to facilitate groups and I wanted to be able to do it. So, I pretended to be confident, acted how I thought I would act if I was confident, and eventually I actually did become confident. Now training and working with groups is what I enjoy most, which was a real surprise at first.
Some psychologists have now found a problem in that they cannot replicate Cuddy’s findings (they have a habit of doing this every time a theory gets popular). But I’m going to stick with the power poses, or at the very least, remember to pay attention to my body language and posture when under pressure, whether that is a job interview, a difficult meeting or a presentation.
People initially decide how to treat you based on first impressions, which are made up of how you look, what you wear, tone of voice and yes, body language. If you look confident, people assume you know what you are doing. Striking power poses in the toilet before an interview might seem a bit whacky, but if it helps you remember to take up space and stand tall and confident, then stick with it, I say.
Of course, you don’t have to wait until you are in the toilet to prepare. A good yoga session is the perfect tool to get in the zone. Some of the power poses that Cuddy describes are actually quite similar to yoga poses. Virabhadrasana (warrior) poses encourage expansion in all directions; it’s impossible to do warrior without taking up a lot of space and channeling strength. Cuddy talks about “starfishes” which are similar to the five pointed star often used to prepare for Virabhadrasana.
Back bends like salamba bhujangasana (sphinx), bhujangasana (cobra), ustrasana (camel) and urdhva dhanurasana (wheel) require opening up and expanding in the chest area, which is the opposite of the powerless and submissive shrinking that Cuddy observed in her subjects. Gomukhasana (cow face pose) is another pose that opens up the chest and shoulders. There is at least one research study which found a link between cobra pose and the production of testosterone, the hormone linked to confidence, dominance and risk taking.
Cuddy doesn’t have much to say about tone of voice, but I would add a bit of chanting to my pre-interview yoga practice, to get my voice warmed up and find my vocal power (singing loudly in the car is a good alternative). Finally some deep, calm, breathing and meditation to slow the heart rate, calm the nerves and remember that whatever happens I am fine.
It’s ok to be a bit nervous when you are in the spotlight of an interview; it just shows that this matters to you. What is not ok is when you come out feeling that you didn’t get yourself heard or show your true self. I hope these tips can get you to the point where you can be your authentic self and show what you are capable of!