What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
If eyes are the window to the soul, then consider your body the whole building. Before you utter a single word, your nonverbal communication is sending out signals to the world announcing: This is my emotional reality.
In essence, we are our own sandwich boards.
Your physiology, that is your expressions, posture and movements, can deliver a direct message to your audience, be it during a presentation, speech or even a chat with a friend.
Sometimes, these signals may be at odds with the message you want to deliver.
For example, a start-up founder may want to deliver a rousing, confident pitch to a group of investors, so they understand how groundbreaking and exciting her idea is.
This pitch is crucial for funding. The founder’s message is articulate and her product is great, but before she gets into it, her nervousness and unease radiate. It fundamentally undermines what she is trying to achieve. With her tapping, head-tilting and hunched shoulders, she is telling her prospective investors that she’s not the right horse to bet on.
“This example exposes a well-known truth. We know that body language affects the way others perceive us.”
According to Science Daily the body language of a treating physician can alter the way a patient receives a diagnosis and whether they choose to comply with the prescribed course of treatment.
Lawyers that don’t convey trustworthy body language (such as poor eye-contact, relaxing their face, even where they choose to stand in the courtroom) will inadvertently affect the outcome of the case.
Adjusting your body language will have an immediate impact on the people you interact with, but the more interesting question is:
Does our nonverbal communication govern how we think and feel about ourselves?
This was the question Harvard Professor and social psychologist Amy Cuddy posed to her team. During her ground-breaking TedTalk, she said that the study wanted to test the old adage ‘fake it til you make it.’
As demonstrated above, small adjustments in posture and facial expression can change the way you appear to other people, but can it also transform your own emotional state?
Ms Cuddy describes powerful body language as ‘big open expansive gestures,’ that take up lots of space:
and timid body language as small, crouched tight movements, making yourself smaller, less visible:
Ms Cuddy asserts that in both scenarios it’s not just the body language that differs, that in the ‘more powerful’ image the alphas have more testosterone (dominance hormone) and lower cortisol (the stress hormone.) The inverse is true for the second image, ‘the less powerful’ one.
In primate studies, it was found that if a new alpha emerged, then his hormones would adapt to his new status, that is, that the testosterone levels will go up and the cortisol levels will drop.
What Ms Cuddy and her team set out to do was see if these ‘powerful poses’ could change the hormone levels of the participants. She had two groups of people ‘the high-power posers’ and the ‘low-power posers’ and got them to hold two poses for only two minutes. After the poses the team:
- Asked the participants how powerful they felt on a series of items
- Asked them to gamble
- Collected a saliva sample
What they discovered was remarkable. Of those in the high-power pose, 86% gambled, compared to only 60% in the low-power pose.
And the hormone levels?
High-power participants: 20% increase
Low-power participants 10% decrease
High-power participants: 25% decrease
Low-power people: 15% increase
In just two minutes these hormonal changes are the difference between feeling calm, collected and in control as opposed to feeling stressed, impotent and panicked. With the right body language, Ms Cuddy argues, you don’t just fake it til you make it, you can fake it until you actually become the epitome of a confident communicator.
Strike a pose
Next time there is an important meeting, or you have to give a talk, or even if you’re dreading having a confrontation with your surly teenager, take two minutes before the event and strike a power pose.
Ensuring that your body language is positive, open and confident won’t just energise the people you are interacting with, it can fundamentally change your approach to the way you move in the world. If you would like to know more about how you can make a positive, dynamic and powerful impact you should check out our guide to mastering a powerful presentation today.
Alison Carter is a facilitator and coach at The Colin James Method® and Inner Profit Pty Ltd, a vibrant leadership development company in Australia. She is a qualified Chartered Accountant who has spent over 15 years in senior financial and communication roles. She now loves to share her passion for the design and delivery of effective and engaging communications.