Book Review: “Presence” by Amy Cuddy

Throughout May, we’ve been focused on Poise. However, when I was choosing a book to feature this month, I couldn’t find anything that read specifically “How To Be Poised at Work,” so I started looking for something that held a similar value and stumbled upon Amy Cuddy’s “Presence: Bringing your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges.”

I was curious to see how close the concept of presence was to poise. The Merriam-Webster definition of poise is “easy self-possessed assurance of manner” and “a particular way of carrying oneself.” Cuddy offers multiple definitions of Presence throughout the book. Though she first defines it as “the state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values, and potential.” I found Cuddy’s definition of presence to be even more empowering than the definition of poise, though they are very similar. In nearly every situation, being able to “comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values, and potential” is what we are all trying to do, right?

The book itself is about accessing this state of presence in our most challenging, nerve-wracking moments. If being poised and present in these critical moments was easy, we wouldn’t cover the topic all month long. By being able to put your best foot forward, even when you are not feeling at the top of your game, you reveal your true potential to those around you. But we all know it’s not easy, so what does Amy Cuddy suggest in “Presence?”

Through conducting and accessing multiple scientific studies, Cuddy has found that the answer is simple: “fake it ‘till you make it.” But it is not about heading into a terrifying situation with a (possibly strained) big smile and chin held high, telling yourself mentally that “you got this!” I know I have heard this nugget of advice over and over, and yet it’s never seemed to do anything but make me worry about how crazy I must look. No, Cuddy suggests setting yourself up for success by letting your body, quietly and privately, lead your mind into more authentic power.

The studies presented throughout the book are fascinating and deserve a read-through. Body language is essential, not just in how we present to others but also in how we present to ourselves. Cuddy finds that we don’t have to struggle to convince others of our potential. We only need to convince ourselves. And we can do this by starting with our bodies instead of our minds. You may be used to “positive affirmations,” where you stand in front of a mirror and say things like, “I am confident” or “I am powerful!” But the issue here is whether you believe it. And, in your lowest, most anxious moments – do you? Instead, we can use the science of body language to our advantage.

By adopting a “power pose,” or open and powerful body language for just 2 minutes, we can rewire our brains to feel how we look. We may be faking the confident body language, but the resulting confidence we trigger in our brains, as a result, is anything but fake. It’s not about changing yourself (which we have all tried and failed at one time or another), but instead changing the way you see yourself – which makes it stick!

The book is truly a revelation for anyone, especially for those who find it impossible to remain poised in those terrifying moments – public speaking, negotiation, conflict resolution, or whatever your weakness may be. Cuddy’s studies and resulting techniques for bringing out the best in yourself make confidence feel easy and will help to bring out your boldest self. I highly recommend giving this book a read!