It’s time to start.
You have everything you need to make your presentation great. Your PowerPoint is ready to go, you’re wearing an outfit that makes you feel powerful, and you’ve got your topic down cold. You start to speak and…
Something’s not right.
Maybe it’s because you know your topic well but your body language and tone of voice don’t convey confidence. Maybe you don’t sound sincere. Maybe you’re trying too hard. Or maybe you’re so worried about what you’re saying that your voice and mannerisms aren’t in sync, like a movie soundtrack that’s a little off.
What you need, according to social psychologist Amy Cuddy, is the power of presence. Cuddy, a professor at Harvard Business School, gave a wildly successful TED talk in 2012 about how changing our body language can change other people’s perceptions (she calls them “power poses”). Her research shows when you’re speaking to employees or making a sales pitch, if you’re thinking too much about what you’re saying, you’re not revealing your sharpest, boldest, most relaxed self. The result: a moment that requires you to be genuine and commanding can instead make you feel anxious and fake.
In her recent book, “Presence,” Cuddy cites research on how potential investors responded to business pitches by different enterpreneurs. The entrepreneurs who seemed confident, enthusiastic, and most importantly, passionate, about their projects were most likely to receive funding. A self-assured enthusiasm was considered a predictor of success; investors perceived that these entrepreneurs were persistent, creative, and could identify good opportunities and ideas. Entrepreneurs who didn’t appear passionate were judged to be less confident or believable. The less effective they were at communicating, the more they were perceived as poor performers. Interestingly, it wasn’t the entrepreneurs’ pitches themselves that conveyed enthusiasm – it was their gestures, facial expressions and vocal quality. In other words, they were able to relay a sense of “Executive Presence.”
Paying attention to your physical presence pays off in other areas as well. How many times have you wanted a do-over, whether it’s a presentation, job interview or other important event? “If only I’d said this, or done it that way, that would’ve happened” or “If only I’d shown them who I really am.” We tend to make biased decisions based on first impressions. If we can learn how to tweak our body language, behavior or mindset in our daily lives, we can stop worrying about the impression we’re making on others and instead adjust the impression we’ve made on ourselves. As noted dancer Martha Graham once said, “The body says what words cannot.”
So the next time you’ve got a big presentation or sales pitch, tap into what makes you excited about your topic. You can also connect with a professional coach. Convey your excitement through your gestures and posture. And you’ll convince by your power of presence.