Every time I speak to a large audience from a stage, there is always someone who comes up to me after the talk who announces, “Wow, you are so short!” I am not quite five feet tall, but most people who see me speak think I am much taller. I have worked with acting coaches who have taught me to project powerfully, which fools people into seeing me as larger than I am. Here are some tips I have learned that you can use whether you are speaking to one person or to many.
Before you speak – You may have heard that smiling when you don’t feel like it can actually trigger the release of pain-killing, good-will feeling endorphins and serotonin so you eventually feel better. The brain does not seem to know the difference between a fake and real smile. There is truth to the statement, “Fake it until you make it.” The same phenomenon works for your body posture. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy found that striking power poses such as putting your hands on your hips when standing or leaning forward with your arms wide, palms down on the table like you are ready for action increases your testosterone and decreases your stress hormones. If you assume the position for seven minutes before you go into a meeting, you will be more convincing when you actually talk to people. Cuddy found volunteers who held the pose before giving a speech rated higher on persuasiveness and the likelihood to be hired. Set your emotional intention with your body before you enter the room.
While you speak –The best tips I learned about presenting with power came from my improvisational acting teacher. First, she said to stand comfortably, not like a military sentry. Stand asymmetrical with your weight on one foot or the other like you would in a casual conversation. It is far more powerful to comfortably connect with people than to stiffly address them. Then she said to free up your arms so they don’t look they are tied to your body. Speak with broad gestures, but be sure to match the intensity of your gestures to your words so you don’t look like a flailing bird. Hold eye contact with people for at least 3 seconds as you speak before moving on to someone else. And most importantly, respect and care about the people you are talking to. You are there to find solutions and possibilities that work for them as well as for you. They need to feel that you care about them before they will give you respect in return.
Ending the conversation – If speaking to a large group, take applause graciously. Don’t run off. Give the participants the chance to thank you. If you are running a meeting, clearly summarize what was decided on and what actions everyone will take before thanking everyone for their participation. Hold yourself strongly even as you walk out of the room. Don’t run out in a rush. Look like you are in charge of your time as well as of yourself.
The late tennis champion Arthur Ashe said, “Regardless of how you feel inside, always try to look like a winner. Even if you are behind, a sustained look of control and confidence can give you a mental edge that results in victory.”
Your emotional state and posture have as much or more impact than the words you choose when speaking. Set a strong emotional intention and then hold yourself with confidence and grace even before you enter the room. This practice could make the difference in getting the results you want.
Read more tips for high-achieving women (and men) in Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction. Berrett-Koehler, 2010.