PAUSE - the silent opportunity of connecting with your audience
December 1, 2014
Women's March to Freedom
March 8, 2017
Physical presence - do you have it?
May 1, 2015
“We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.” Sheryl Sandberg
As I continue to run trainings on “Executive Presence for Women” at RADA in Business and my own “Impactful Leadership for Women," there are 3 key physical habits I notice that prevent women accessing the full visibility, presence and credibility they deserve.
1. Owning your Height
How often have you found yourself slouching, collapsing from your solar plexus and reducing your height? Psychologically, on some level, you are saying: “I don’t want to be seen.” The result is that your spoken message has less impact and power because it is not matched up with a strong physical presence. Confident, empowered people own their height and are not afraid of being seen. It takes courage to stand up to what you believe in, put your opinions across and not hide behind a shrunken physical body.
Princeton University Psychologist Alex Todorov has shown that it takes a tenth of a second for someone to form an opinion of us. This is echoed in Malcolm Gladwell’s best selling book “Blink.” Whether judgments we make of others are accurate or not, we form them very quickly based on people’s facial expressions and body language.
So, how are you coming across? What habits prevent you from owning your full height?
Spend a few moments being aware of how you carry yourself. Imagine you have got an invisible string of confidence attached to the top of your head and you are being pulled upwards like a puppet towards the ceiling. Notice how this makes you feel as you walk into a room, give a presentation or partake in a meeting.
2. Taking Space
Women tend to take less room. Our instinct is to make ourselves smaller, especially if we find ourselves amongst bigger and stronger personalities.
Think of the last time you were at an important meeting – how much space did you take? Did you have your hands resting on your lap underneath the table? Did you find your arms glued to your side, crossed over your body or tucked underneath your legs?
If you spread your arms out like a bird with expansive wings, you will get a sense of how wide you are and how far you stretch. This expansion is your space and it is a very big part of your physical presence. It has energy and power that opens you out to others and reaches them. It says “I am here” and "I have something worth offering!"
So the encouragement is to be brave, stand tall, claim your space and be visible. The congruency between what you say and how you say it is what others will read and decide if your message has substance and is to be believed.
3. Being Grounded
Finally, women tend to lack physical gravitas. This is because they do not ground themselves regularly. One of the reasons may be that you spend vast amounts of time in high heels that keep you disconnected from the earth. It could be that you live mostly in your head listening to those inner critic voices disempowering you or just trying to get through the multitude of things you have to juggle each day.
Most women will stand with feet together, crossed over or with their weight on one foot only. Apart from the fact that many of these postures mean that you are not physically stable, on a psychological level you are not centred and will be easily thrown off balance when faced with difficult questions, challenging remarks or aggressive behaviours. You will find it hard to hold your ground and stand in your authority.
Find time to feel your feet on the ground. Close your eyes for a few moments each day and imagine you have thick roots pulling you down into the centre of the earth. Feel yourself being planted, steady and strong. Take your roots into work and plant them when you speak so you are taken seriously, so you look strong and credible, so others can see the confident presence you possess.
Amy Cuddy, social psychologist, associate professor and researcher at Harvard Business School, talks about the rewards of holding a Power Pose. A Power Pose involves owning your full height, taking space and being grounded. When you stand in your Power Pose for 2 minutes at any given time, your testosterone (dominant, powerful, strong) hormonal levels go up by 20% and your cortisol (stress, fear, anxiety) hormonal levels drop by 25%. This significant discovery helps us realize the power of the body on the mind.
As Amy Cuddy says, “Our bodies change our minds, and our minds can change our behaviour, and our behaviour can change our outcomes.”
Your physical presence communicates far more than you realize, so be aware of how you come across even before you open your mouth to speak. Your physical presence is telling a story – your story! A story that shapes how you are perceived; how others assess you - your strengths and capabilities and how successfully your message will land with them.
So take your space, own it with confidence and “lean in” so what you have to say is communicated with impact, authenticity and credibility.