Amy Cuddy Presence Interview – Amy Cuddy Ted Talk

The morning of my interview with social psychologist Amy Cuddy, I stand in one of the bathroom stalls at Marie Claire and do power poses. First I plant my legs wide and put my hands on my hips, Wonder Woman style, and hold the position before throwing both arms over my head the way runners do when they cross the finish line, something I don’t have much experience with. I think I was supposed to pick just one of these poses and hold it for two minutes in order to raise my testosterone and lower my cortisol levels, but I find so much enjoyment in the transformation I feel that I’m certain more time than that has elapsed before I exit the stall. When I do, I catch my own confident smile in the mirror. The power poses are working!

Cuddy’s book Presence comes out this week, and it’s a triple threat: enjoyable, fascinating, and a brightly packaged New Year’s resolution—the jacket is a warm, sunny shade of yellow—that isn’t unwelcome the way going to the gym five times a week is. In fact, quite the opposite. Cuddy, a social scientist and professor at Harvard Business School, dives into how to achieve presence, which she defines as “the state in which we stop worrying about the impression we’re making on others and instead adjust the impression we’ve been making on ourselves.” It’s a worthy goal, one that can impact interactions that range from momentous (a job interview) to the mundane (meeting someone new at a party).

Cuddy is best known for her “Your body language shapes who you are” TED Talk, the second most-watched TED Talk of all time. In it, she discusses her own impostor syndrome and how she became intrigued by the psychology of “fake it ’til you make it.” She wondered whether our non-verbals could guide how we think and feel about ourselves—basically, if our bodies can change our minds. She and her team conducted an experiment that found subjects who did what she termed “power poses” before an interview achieved higher levels of feeling powerful, assertive, and calm (that’s the testosterone) and lower levels of stress (that’s the cortisol) and did much better at the interview than those who took low-power poses, like slouching with crossed arms. Ever since, she’s been hearing from viewers whose lives were changed by the power poses they did before major moments.

Useful as the poses are (and I can attest that I’ve rarely felt more at ease during an interview), there’s a lot more to the body-mind connection, and that’s what Presence lays out so well. Cuddy chatted with MC about her new book, female body language, and being a psych nerd.

Marie Claire: You write in the intro of Presence about not being sure how much your TED Talk would resonate. What do you make of how powerful it’s been, that it’s been life-changing for many viewers?

Amy Cuddy: It’s still hard to believe, and it’s really heartening. If you would have asked me what I hope will happen with the work that I do in my life, I would have said that I’d want it to reach and help lots of people. So it’s kind of my number one desired outcome and still it’s hard to believe. Honestly, I can’t bear to re-watch the talk. I just find it awful, so I really don’t understand how people even tolerate it, which is kind of funny. But I think that the themes that come up are universal, and they’re not exactly the ones that I expected when I first set out to write it. I thought it would be more science-y, less personal. But the whole impostor syndrome thing, I had no idea how widespread that was. I was shocked with how many people who wrote to me felt like impostors, and equal numbers of men and women. I think that invited people in a little bit more, to be more open to the other things I was saying.