Summer Reading Series: Presence by Amy Cuddy

By June 28, 2016March 30th, 2020Book Reviews, Summer Reading Series

summer reading presence amy cuddyHave you ever finished a pivotal business presentation and immediately wished for a do-over?

All too often we approach opportunities filled with doubt, execute them with dread, and leave them feeling distraught. The situations that require us to be confident and inspiring can instead make us feel powerless and ineffective.

In her book, Presence, Harvard professor Amy Cuddy teaches us how to access our personal power and bring our “boldest self to our biggest challenges” so we can confidently achieve our goals.

If you’ve seen Cuddy’s TED talk about power poses, you may have been skeptical. Can you really increase your confidence simply by striking a pose?

It turns out that the power pose is only one of Cuddy’s simple “nudges,” or small adjustments to our body language, mindset and behavior that can collectively lead to big changes. In her book, Cuddy shares a series of surprisingly simple techniques and the science behind them. Sprinkled in with the research are personal stories that contain strong take-a-way messages.

Read on for the lessons from Cuddy’s book that, for me, defined the principles of Presence.

Power expands our body language

Cuddy explains that when we feel “present,” our postures, movements, facial expressions and speech are all in alignment. This synchronicity projects confidence and credibility, and can transform a bundle of nerves into a powerful presence.

She also points out that when you feel powerful, you unconsciously make yourself bigger. Have you noticed this phenomenon? A confident speaker stands taller with head held high, arms raised and eyes wide open.

The most surprising part is that it also works the other way around: intentionally adopting a powerful body stance can make you feel more powerful. That’s what Cuddy’s famous “Wonder Woman” power pose is all about. Watch her video “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are” to see how it works.

Professionally Speaking Tip
Read this article to project a larger, more confident body stance: Speaker Stance, Texas Style: Projecting a Larger Than Life Image On Stage

Slow down to build power

Here’s another little-known-fact you may have noticed: people tend to talk faster when they are nervous. On the other hand, confident speakers take their time, speak slower than usual and pause intentionally.

Slowing your speech down is another form of expanding your personal power to capture the attention of your audience. A slower pace allows your voice to take up more space, without increasing the volume. It’s about taking the time to ponder exactly what you want to say and how to say it in a high-stakes situation. Doing so not only makes you appear more confident, but helps you relax and stay in the moment.

Nudge yourself from tiny tweaks to big changes

What if a powerful sense of self-worth doesn’t come naturally to you? How can you be more confident in high pressure situations, whatever happens?

Cuddy recommends what she calls “nudges,” or incremental tweaks in behavior or thinking, that over time can help us make a quantum leap in our ability to project a confident presence. She suggests techniques like power posing, along with daily routines to avoid falling into the powerless body language we often mindlessly adopt.

This point resonated with me because I have always taken this approach with my clients, working with them to change one skill or behavior at a time. I agree with Cuddy: it is gently nudging ourselves, focusing on small incremental changes, which allows us to succeed at being our best selves and keeps us “present” in the moments that challenge us most!

Professionally Speaking Tip
Read this article to learn more about conveying your presence by being fully engaged during your talk: 3 Clues to Confidence

Cuddy cautions that presence is not a silver bullet. Projecting confidence doesn’t make you smarter, better informed, or grant you skills or talents that you don’t possess. Rather, it helps you to be who you are and to bring your best self forward. What more can anyone ask?

Summer Reading Series

Presence by Amy Cuddy is the first book in the Professionally Speaking 2016 summer reading series. Below are discussion questions we invited participants to consider while reading. Please share your thoughts about the book or concepts discussed in this post.

If you haven’t joined us yet, there is still time. Find the details here and join in on the conversation.

Presence Discussion Questions:

  1. Define the term “presence” as it’s used by Amy Cuddy. Do you have people in your life who have presence, as the book describes it?
  2. What does it mean to build your sense of personal power without a sense of arrogance? How does increasing your power help you be your better self?
  3. What situations in your own life might you envision using the lessons spelled out in Presence? Have you tried her power stance yet?
  4. Talk about one of the central premises of this book—how mind and body work together to affect who we are and how we’re perceived. What are the ways in which the body affects the mind?
  5. What is the most striking, insightful, or powerful piece of information you have discovered while reading Amy Cuddy’s book?


Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Stephanie Scotti says:

    Dear Gail,
    Thank you for sharing your insights and reflections. Like you, the quote “It seems when you become present, you allow others to be present” resonated with me as well.

    This book created quite a buzz that hasn’t been captured on this blog. Many readers have felt compelled to recommend the book to others and to continue the conversation. In fact, Marcy Rader ( a member of the Summer Reading Series community has invited me to host a live, “presence” discussion on November 4 @ 10:00 in Raleigh, NC. I wish you were in the area so you could join us!

    Your thoughtful comments and participation are greatly appreciated.



  • Gail Morgan says:

    In my opinion “presence” is being totally focused on the internal and external elements and working those elements to achieve your desired outcome. I encounter people in my daily walk who exhibit many of the presence characteristics, but I’m not sure anyone exhibits all characteristics at all times. Building your sense of personal power without arrogance entails knowing who you are, your goals, and working a plan to achieve those goals without elevating yourself and your abilities above others. If you have to tell someone how good you are, you’re probably not that good. 🙂 Success speaks for itself. In reality we are one small piece to the much larger puzzle of impacting our world for a greater cause…but all pieces are important and necessary. Being non-confrontational by nature, Cuddy’s claim, “Powerlessness is at least as likely to corrupt as power is,” strongly resonated with my thinking. Another was “It seems when you become present, you allow others to be present.” Yes! This was a great read that I have highly recommended to my colleagues.