“Executive presence” refers to how others perceive your leadership capabilities based upon your nonverbal communication. Being seen and perceived as a leader is essential for being promoted into leadership positions, according to a study by the Center for Talent Innovation. Experts agree that it takes mere seconds to form a first impression of someone. Though that first impression is not always an accurate representation of the person being “sized up,” we make those snap judgments about others all the time. Unfortunately, other people are constantly making snap judgments about us, too. So how can we ensure our first impressions are positive? How can we display “executive presence” and show others that we are leaders? We must spend time power posing.
Amy Cuddy earned her PhD in Social Psychology from Princeton, and she currently teaches at the Harvard Business School. She has done extensive research on body language and nonverbal communication. Cuddy’s TED Talk, “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are,” teaches us that our body language not only shapes the way other people see us but also shapes how we see ourselves. In order to prove to others we are strong, confident leaders, we must spend time power posing. These poses help to change our body language from powerless to powerful.
For example, consider your body language before a stressful situation such as an interview, presentation, or important business meeting. Are you hunching over your iPhone or your portfolio as you put in a few more minutes of preparation? This low-power pose makes us look less confident and capable to anyone who walks by. More importantly though, sitting this way can actually force our bodies and our own minds into low-power states.
According to Cuddy, “Social psychologists at the University of Texas have found that the most effective leaders have both high testosterone and low cortisol.” Cuddy’s research indicates that low-power poses – making your body smaller by hunching over and folding in – actually influences your hormone levels. When we sit or stand in a low-power pose, our testosterone decreases, and our cortisol (the stress hormone) increases. Our executive presence decreases with these low-power poses.
Instead, we should focus on high-power posing to increase our executive presence. Imagine a powerful leader. This person looks confident and exudes self-confidence. A leader dresses professionally and stands tall and straight. A leader holds his or her head high with shoulders back. A leader’s posture is open instead of closed. For example, Wonder Woman stands in a high-power pose. Her hands are on her hips, and she might lift one hand high into the air. Cuddy explains, “You pose powerfully; you perform better; you feel more confident and powerful; then you perform even better. At the same time, people respond to that confidence and performance boost and give you feedback that further elevates your feelings of confidence and power. Now, this doesn’t mean you should go into an interview and stand like Wonder Woman! Cuddy suggests spending two minutes before an interview or a presentation standing in a bathroom stall in a high-power pose.
Standing in a powerful pose will help you feel more powerful. Students have tried high-power posing before stressful situations to achieve positive results. For example, two Music Business students reported practicing a few minutes of power posing before their Final Project Presentation at the end of their degree program. These students reported an increase in confidence despite the enormous pressure of the situation. Before delivering your next public speech or before your next important meeting, try two minutes of high-power posing. To learn more about developing your executive presence with high-power poses, watch Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk. Additionally, read “Leadership Advice: Strike A Pose.”