When was the last time you posed like a superhero?
It’s probably been awhile, if you can even remember the last time you adopted one of the classic superhero stances: legs apart and feet planted, hands on hips, back straight, gaze straight and level.
I hadn’t been paying much attention to superhero poses myself (despite having a young toddler at home). But a recent TedX talk by John Marcotte, founder of Heroic Girls, highlighted a Harvard teams’ research that can be helpful not just for girls and women, but for anyone in high-stakes presentation situations.
Here at Logos, we’re often asked to help individuals and leaders prepare for a wide range of high-stakes presentations and public interactions. We’ve worked with individuals to prepare for everything from media interviews, board presentations, technical or financial road shows, investor pitches, congressional and regulatory testimony, employee videoconferences, even individual job interviews. Sometimes the stakes are highest with just an audience of one; sometimes the individual is presenting or speaking to thousands (or millions, on TV). So this particular piece of research caught our eye in terms of how it might be able to help individuals facing these high-stakes situations.
The study, “The Benefit of Power Posing Before a High-Stakes Social Evaluation,” by Amy J.C. Cuddy, Caroline Wilmuth, and Dana R. Carvey, involved researching a behavior conducted BEFORE an actual presentation, not during the presentation itself, an interesting distinction. And the effects of this behavior – taken before the presentation even began – were measureable.
As the researchers noted, “In the moments before walking into high-stakes social evaluation many people shrink in their chairs and hunch over their phones, adopting nonverbal postures that can cause them to feel even more powerless (Carney, Cuddy, & Yap, 2010). But what if people did the opposite – stretching out and occupying more space, rather than slouching and taking up less?”
The research team asked one group of study participants to stand in a superhero pose, what they called a “high-power pose,” for two minutes before beginning a presentation, and another group to stand in a “low-power pose” for two minutes before beginning a presentation. “The high-power posers, in contrast to low-power posers, appeared to better maintain their composure, project more confidence, and present more captivating and enthusiastic speeches, in turn leading to higher overall performance evaluations.” This was true even though the audience hadn’t actually seen the poses adopted before the interaction began, and true even though the “power pose” didn’t affect body posture during the presentation itself.
In his TedX talk, John Marcotte highlights additional benefits of this stance: “If you pose like a superhero for just two minutes, your power hormone testosterone rises by 8%. If you pose like a superhero for just two minutes, your stress hormone, cortisol, drops by 25%. And most importantly, if you pose like a superhero for just two minutes, you will find yourself more likely to take a risk. So pretending to be a superhero, even in a small and insignificant way, makes us act more like a superhero in real life.”
Or as the Harvard researchers say, “Preparatory power posing might serve as a simple, free tool that has the potential to be adopted by and beneficial to almost anyone.”
So the next time you’re facing a high-stakes presentation or interaction, take just two minutes beforehand to channel your inner superhero. You might just fly.