Writers are often introverts, happy in our own company and communing with imaginary characters. You can find us sitting at our computers, engrossed in a book, making notes, lost in thought. These introverted activities often go hand-in-hand with a hunched-over, low-power pose as we forget our physicality.
But then, because we also exist in the real world, horror of horrors, comes the moment when we have to talk about our work; perhaps at a reading, pitching to an agent or networking at a conference or festival.
Fake it till you make it
Amy Cuddy, author of Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, had a glittering academic career ahead of her, until a car crash caused brain damage which meant a significant drop in her IQ level. She was told that she should choose another career path, one that didn’t involve an Ivy League University. But Amy was not a quitter, she persevered and worked hard until she overcame her disadvantages and became a Harvard Professor. On the road to recovery she became interested in body language and how it affects us. We probably all know that body language affects how others perceive us, but Cuddy discovered that the body poses we adopt strongly affect how we feel about ourselves.
Laboratory studies showed that adopting an expansive and open high-power pose, for as little as two minutes, raises testosterone and lowers cortisol levels.
Testosterone boosts confidence and cortisol makes us feel stressed and anxious. Unsurprisingly, in the experiment, people who adopted the high-power poses beforehand did significantly better when faced with stressful situations. When Cuddy published her findings the media were all over it, and of course misinterpreted the message. Those power poses need to be adopted somewhere in private, before the important meeting, interview or in our case the performance, reading or workshop.
The Proof of the Pudding…
I have been using this technique now since the end of 2014 for myself and for my students and it works. In my business English groups, if we have an afternoon of presentations then we all adopt a power pose for two minutes beforehand. It’s amazing to see the effect, particularly on female students. Because if you were wondering, yes, women do more often make themselves small and are less likely to adopt a power pose; so this message is especially pertinent for women.
Cuddy also states that adopting a tall avatar, and/or using emoticons skilfully, can help you do better in an online negotiation. I tried this out on a Futurelearn course I was doing at the time. Hitherto, my avatar was a cute but small dog and I got very few replies to my comments. I changed my avatar to Lady Mary (from Downton Abbey) riding side-saddle on a very high horse. The course was about English literature in country houses so the avatar was also apposite. The effect was immediate and I started to get multiple replies to my posts and quite a few from course mentors, which had never happened before.
Even though it may feel silly, this expansive and open body language that equates with power is hard-wired in our primate past. Standing like a starfish for just two minutes could significantly help the success of your next performance. Why not find a private space and give it a go before your next pitch, conference, or any other public appearance. I’d love to hear how you get on.
No starfish were harmed during the writing of this blog.