Last week, I saw an inadvertent demonstration of the effectiveness of “power posing” before a presentation.
Power posing is the practice of deliberately assuming a powerful body position prior to a stressful situation, such as a presentation or an interview, in order to trick your mind into feeling more confident. According to one well-known study, participants who power-posed before a mock interview/presentation were more likely to be seen by independent raters as more competent and more likely to be “hired”.
In my class on presentations, I had explained the technique as a possible antidote to stage fright. I told the students that, while it’s well known that our internal states can affect how we carry ourselves, it has also been demonstrated that how we carry ourselves can affect our internal states. It’s called embodied cognition.
One woman in the class, who had admitted how nervous she was, was very skeptical. I can’t say that I blamed her, because it does smack of pop psychology. When it was her time to speak, she slowly approached the front of the room, showing all outward signs of anxiety and withdrawal. Just before reaching the front, she suddenly straightened up, threw her arms out, and looked right at me saying loudly: “Here’s my power pose!”
It was meant to be ironic and to poke fun at the idea, and it only lasted about two seconds rather than the two minutes used during the study. But – and maybe this was just a coincidence – she then proceeded to deliver one of the more poised and confident presentations that day. In fact, one of her classmates accused her of sandbagging.
It’s impossible to say that her brief but intense power pose, even though she did not believe in it, made the difference. But for those of us who saw the before and after performances, it made believers out of us.
I would not recommend using her exact technique immediately before your next critical presentation; you don’t want to scare your audience! But, if you can spare a few moments out of sight to fake it, you just might feel it. What have you got to lose?