The art of presentation is an integral aspect of the legal profession regardless of your particular practice. Whether you are providing direction and counsel to a client, wooing potential referral sources, or influencing a judge or jury at trial, good presentation skills matter. Essential to your presentation skills is the ability to project confidence and power to those you wish to influence. This goes for new and experienced practitioners alike. And, it all begins with the way in which you view yourself. If you don’t believe in your abilities, then how can you persuade others to trust and respect you?
Updated June 2018: The research discussed below has been criticized on various points, which have been responded to in this article from Forbes.
Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and professor at Harvard Business School, has a solution. Last year, Cuddy gave a TEDTalk (which, by the way, has over 18,000,000 views) entitled “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are”. In that talk, she discussed her research on how the concept of “power posing” can change not only how others perceive you, but also how you perceive yourself. She found that by embracing a “high-power pose” for two minutes, you can increase levels of testosterone by 20 percent and decrease levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol by 25 percent. With these physical changes transforming the way in which you think and feel about yourself, you can thereby project a more positive and confident image to others.
Concluding her talk, Cuddy described a challenging personal experience where she was convinced she would fail. With the encouragement of her college advisor to “fake it until [she] ma[d]e it,” she did just that through undergrad, graduate school, and as a teacher until she forgot that she was faking it and actually became it. Her message: “Fake it ‘til you become it.”
Dr. Shawn Healy, a clinical psychologist at Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, provides some context to this phenomenon:
Physical and chemical influences on our confidence are interrelated with strong psychological factors as well. Most people at some point in their lives experience what is known as the Imposter Syndrome. This is when a person feels like he/she is a fake or significantly inadequate as compared to those around him/her. We often judge others by what they show us (usually the best image they can muster), while we judge ourselves based on all the positive and negative information we have on ourselves. This can result in an overly positive view of others’ competence and an overly negative view of our own abilities. Practicing a “power pose” can help quickly boost your confidence. I recommend combining this with a technique to maintain your confidence, which is to view yourself and others nonjudgmentally, as “people with doubts and flaws that try the best they can, just like me”. Once you feel more powerful yourself, use that power to build others up, not tear them down. Productive strength is much more powerful and influential than destructive strength.
So, next time you are gearing up to make a presentation, meet with a client, or give an opening statement, take two minutes to “power pose” and see how it impacts you and your audience.
Heidi Alexander, Esq.