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Executive Coaching Insights - Building Presence

Amy Cuddy, Professor and Researcher at the Harvard Business School, is an important voice on leadership training. Her 2012 TED Talk is the second most viewed talk in Ted Talk history, her book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self To Your Boldest Challenge is a best seller and she is very much in demand as a speaker and author.

Amy Cuddy’s work on presence is very empowering because it speaks to how anyone can authentically build their presence to be more effective communicators, better trusted amongst managers and peers and able to sell and persuade others on their ideas and proposals. 

First, let’s start with how Amy Cuddy defines presence:

“Presence is the state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values, and potentials.”

This may appear to be simplistic but as Connie Glaser notes in her recent book review of Presence in the Atlanta Business Chronicle:

“… what makes Cuddy’s research truly valuable is that, instead, she focuses on building a more effective, honest, and powerful internal connection with ourselves.

“One of the important points that Cuddy makes is that “presence” has nothing to do with misleading or fooling other people into thinking you are something you are not”.

Glaser in her review directly quotes Cuddy to show why authenticity is so important:

“Being inauthentic is hard work. We’re telling one story while suppressing another, and as if that’s not complicated enough, most of us are experiencing psychological guilt about doing this, which we’re also trying to suppress. We just don’t have the brainpower to manage it all without letting something go — without ‘leaking.’”

What Cuddy proposes is moving ourselves past the positive self-talk (think Stuart Smalley) to a more scientific approach towards training our brains to work for us in helping to create more confidence and less self-doubt.

How is this accomplished? Glaser in her book review lists some of Cuddy’s suggestions for “optimizing your brain to be 100 percent present when you walk into a big challenge. Think of it as a pre-event warm-up.”

  • In some ways, every day is a challenge. Prepare by power posing first thing in the morning. Get out of bed and practice a couple of your favorite poses for a few minutes.
  • When you can find it, make the most of privacy in public places — pose in an elevator, a bathroom stall, a stairwell.
  • If you can’t strike a pose physically, do it mentally. Imagine yourself in the most powerful, expansive pose you can think of. Be a superhero in your own thought bubble.
  • If you can, arrive before your audience arrives. Get comfortable with occupying the presentation space. Make the space yours, so your audience is coming to your “home” as opposed to you going to theirs.

Admittedly small steps but important ones.

The advice in this book covers a lot of subject areas that we see in our Executive Coaching sessions with clients. For anyone who is a public face for their organization (like your author) or who has those crippling moments of self-doubt (Imposter Syndrome) the writings and videos of Amy Cuddy are well worth reading.