You want to project strength, competence, and confidence throughout your presentation. You achieve this goal with a number of techniques, all working simultaneously and in harmony.
Those techniques comprise our backpack full of Seven Secrets.
Your first technique – or secret – is fundamental to projecting the image of strength, competence, and confidence. This first technique is assumption of the proper stance.
Let me preface by assuring you that I don’t expect you to stay rooted in one spot throughout your talk. But at risk of sounding clichéd, let us state forthrightly that it’s impossible to build any lasting structure on a soft foundation. This foundation grows out of the notion of what we can call “power posing.”
Let’s build your foundation now and learn a little bit about the principle of power posing.
How do you stand when you converse in a group at a party or a reception? What’s your “bearing?” How do you stand before a crowd when you speak? Have you ever consciously thought about it?
How you stand, how you carry yourself, communicates to others. It transmits a great deal about us with respect to our inner thoughts, self-image, and self-awareness. Whether we like this or not is not the point.
The point is that we’re constantly signaling others nonverbally. You are sending a message to those around you, and those around us will take their cues based on universal perception of the messages received.
Your Foundation – Power Posing
What is true in small groups is also true as you lecture or present in front of groups of four or 400. Whether you actually speak or not, your body language is always transmitting. What’s the message that you unconsciously send people? Have you thought about the silent and constant messages your posture radiates?
Seize control of your communication this instant. There is no reason not to, and there are many quite good reasons why you should.
Recognize that much of the audience impression of you is forming as you approach the lectern. Your listeners form this impression immediately, before you shuffle your papers or clear your throat or squint into the bright lights. They form their impression from your walk, from your posture, from your clothing, from your grooming, from the slightest inflections of your face, and from your eye movement.
This has always been true; speaking Master Grenville Kleiser said in 1912 that, “The body, the hand, the face, the eye, the mouth, all should respond to the speaker’s inner thought and feeling.”
Do you stand with shoulders rounded in a defeatist posture?
Do you transmit defeat, boredom, ennui? Do you shift from side-to-side or do you unconsciously sway back-and-forth? Do you cross and uncross your legs without knowing, balancing precariously upon one foot, your free leg wrapped in front of the other, projecting an odd, wobbly, and about-to-tumble-down image?
Defeat? Ennui? Negativity?
Your posture affects those who watch you and it affects you as well. Those effects can be positive or negative.
Posture, of course, is part of nonverbal communication, and it serves this role well. The audience takes silent cues from you, and your posture is one of those subtle cues that affect an audience’s mood and receptivity. But posture and bearing are not simply superficial nonverbal communication to your audience.
There is another effect, and it can be insidious and can undermine your goals . . . or it can be an incredibly powerful ally to your mission.
It is this: Your body language transmits your depression, guilty, fear, lack of confidence to the audience. It also enhances and reinforces those feelings within you. Most often, if we fear the act of public speaking, the internal flow of energy from our emotional state to our physical state is negative.
Negative energy courses freely into our limbs and infuses us with stiffness, dread, immobility and a destructive self-consciousness. We shift involuntarily into damage-limitation mode. It cripples us.
Your emotions affect your body language. They influence the way you stand, the way you appear to your audience. They influence what you say and how you say it.
Reverse the Process
Let me say this so there is no mistaking the message here.
You can use your gestures, movement, posture, and expression to influence your emotions. You can turn it around quite handily and seize control of the dynamic. Instead of your body language and posture reflecting your emotions, reverse the flow.
Let your emotions reflect your body language and your posture. Consciously strike a bearing that reflects the confident and powerful speaker you want to be.
A venerable psychological theory contends this very thing, that our emotions evolve from our physiology. It’s called James-Lange Theory, developed by William James and the Danish physiologist Carl G. Lange. Speaking Master James Albert Winans noted the phenomenon in 1915:
Count ten before venting your anger, and its occasion seems ridiculous. Whistling to keep up courage is no mere figure of speech. On the other hand, sit all day in a moping posture, sigh, and reply to everything with a dismal voice, and your melancholy lingers. . . . [I]f we wish to conquer undesirable emotional tendencies in ourselves, we must assiduously, and in the first instance cold-bloodedly, go through the outward movements of those contrary dispositions which we prefer to cultivate.
Much more recently, a Harvard study substantiated James-Lange Theory and found that power posing substantially increases confidence in people who assume them while interacting with others. In short, the way you stand or sit either increases or decreases your confidence.
The study’s conclusion is unambiguous and speaks directly to us. Harvard researchers Dana R. Carney, Amy J.C. Cuddy and Andy J. Yap say in the September 2010 issue of Psychological Science that:
[P]osing in high-power displays (as opposed to low-power displays) causes physiological, psychological, and behavioral changes consistent with the literature on the effects of power on power holders — elevation of the dominance hormone testosterone, reduction of the stress hormone cortisol, and increases in behaviorally demonstrated risk tolerance and feelings of power.
In other words, stand powerfully and you increase your power and presence. You actually feel more powerful. This finding holds tremendous significance for you if you want to imbue your presentations with power.
In our 21st Century vernacular, this means you should stand the way you want to feel. Assume the especially powerful posture of confidence. Consciously affect a positive, confident bearing. Square your shoulders. Affix a determined look on your face. Speak loudly and distinctly. In short, let your actions influence your emotions. Seize control of the emotional energy flow and make it work for you.
So what is a confident posture? Let’s begin with a firm foundation.
For any structure to endure, we must build on strength. And I mean this both in the metaphorical and in the literal sense with regard to business presentations. You must not only project strength and stability, you must feel strength and stability. The two are inseparable, and a moment’s thought reveals to you why.
Think of the confident man.
To appear unstable and fearful before an audience, a confident man must take a conscious effort to strike such a pose. Likewise, it would take a conscious effort for a man, who has planted himself firmly in the prescribed confident posture, to feel nervous, uncertain, or unsure of himself.
That is, if he affected the confident pose and maintained it relentlessly against all of the body’s involuntary urges to crumple and shift, to equivocate and sway.
Think as well of the confident woman.
How does the confident woman’s demeanor different from that of the confident man? Virtually not at all. The point and the goal is to establish a foundation that exudes strength, competence, and confidence.
Essential to this goal is that you know the difference between open body language and closed body language. It is the difference between power posing and powerless posing.
This strong personal foundation is your ready position, your standard posture for your presentation.