One of my clients asked me to be straight with him and not to sugarcoat my feedback. He said, “I don’t want Paula Abdul, I want Simon Cowell.” OK, then. I offered this response: “When you slouch like that you add ten years to your age and you look unsure of yourself.” That got his attention. I’m sure I would have suggested that he stand up straight and convey personal confidence, but I think I was more mindful of this non-verbal message because of the latest research on powerful non-verbal communication.
Columbia University researchers Dana Carney, AJ Cuddy, and AJ Yap conducted experiments to prove that humans express power through open, expansive postures, and they express powerlessness through closed, narrowing postures. In their words, “high-power posers experienced elevations in testosterone, decreases in cortisol, and increased feelings of power and tolerance for risk; low-power posers exhibited the opposite pattern. In short, these findings suggest that embodiment extends beyond mere thinking and feeling, to physiology and subsequent behavioral choices. That a person can, by assuming [certain] poses, embody power and instantly become more powerful has real-world, actionable implications.” We’re talking the basic superhero pose here – wide stance, broad shoulders, lifted torso – the kind of pose that requires you to take up lots of space
This research has significant implications for anyone who gets nervous before they speak or who has to really impress their audience. Adopting a tall, confident posture doesn’t just make you feel better emotionally, it makes you feel more powerful biochemically. How cool is that?! We always knew that posture was important to a public speaker, but it’s nice to see quality research that backs it up
Next time you are getting ready to stand up in front of an audience, take a moment to lengthen your spine, lift your rib cage, bring your chin to a neutral position (not up or down, but parallel to the floor) and rotate your shoulders back and down. As we Pilates instructors like to say, “Imagine placing your shoulder blades in your back pockets. Plant your feet shoulder-width apart and you are ready to make a great impression.