Summary Written by Jennifer Fitzgerald Hansen
"Presence emerges when we feel personally powerful, which allows us to be acutely attuned to our most sincere selves. In this psychological state, we are able to maintain presence even in the very stressful situations that typically make us feel distracted and powerless."

- Presence, page 24–25

The Big Idea

Rewind the mind’s experiences

"Our bodies don’t just carry us where we want to go: they can help carry us to who we want to be ... where our body leads, our minds and emotions follow."- Presence, page 181

Cuddy uses the quote from artist Frank Gelett Burgess: “Our bodies are apt to be our autobiographies.” WOW! Our bodies, or how we hold them, are often a reflection of what we have been through until that point—the good, the bad and the ugly. Cuddy shows that with the use of mind-body techniques, such as yoga, we can help rewire the mind’s experiences, and thus the control that the mind yields over how the body presents itself.

Think about it. If you have been beaten down [mentally] in your life, by bosses, coworkers, siblings or parents, you walk hunched over, you speak rarely and if you do, it is meekly. You “wear” your experiences on your body. Cuddy references work done with rape victims and veterans diagnosed with PTS[D] and are helped with Presence techniques. Learning that the way you walk and talk “clearly affects the way you think, feel, and behave” is a game changer. This is big: certainly facial expressions and breathing have an effect but by becoming aware of our whole body “through postures, gestures and movement to enhance our personal power in an adaptive way when we need it most … we can pose our way to presence.”

Insight #1

Listen and silent are made up of the same letters

"The paradox of listening is that by relinquishing power – the temporary power of speaking, asserting, knowing – we become more powerful."- Presence, page 81

When you stop talking, stop preaching, and listen:

  • People can trust you. Without trust it is hard to influence.
  • You acquire useful information. More information = better decisions, which makes solving problems easier.
  • You begin to see other people as individuals – and maybe even allies. It is no longer us vs. them but rather just us!
  • You develop solutions that other people are willing to accept and even adopt. People involved in finding solutions are more likely to commit and follow through. Ownership of a solution is very powerful.
  • When people feel heard, they are more willing to listen.

Listening is absolutely crucial to presence. We need to have a sincere willingness to listen to what is being said. We need to suspend judgement – not an easy thing to do. And we need to give people a safe space to be honest – which means not responding defensively. Our individual fear of silence needs to be overcome in order to really listen because the benefits are so great!

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Insight #2

Curiosity killed the cat; maybe we need to learn CPR!

"Of course approaching others with kindness, openness, and curiosity is the best strategy but you’d be surprised how common it is for us to instinctively take a different approach, one that has more to do with demonstrating our own power and control."- Presence, page 71

Cuddy talks about how we quickly “size someone up” when we first meet them. She says we ask ourselves two questions: “Can I trust this person?” And, “Can I respect this person?” She refers to these dimensions as warmth and competence and we typically judge people to possess more of one of these qualities than the other; rarely are people equal in both.

Ironically, when asked which trait people would prefer to be seen as, trustworthy or competent, most choose competent. What people need to realize though is that trust “is the conduit of influence and the only way to establish real trust is by being present.” With Presence, trust grows and ideas flow freely. If you are not trusted first you tend to be seen as a manipulator – you won’t get very far. Your ideas are useless unless they are presented by a trustworthy person!

Always try to “connect” with a person first on a more personal level before trying to show your competence. Cuddy affirms that building this trust is the best route for success.

Amy Cuddy’s work with how to establish individual Presence is brilliant! There is just no other word for it. There are so many tips and strategies through the book to help us be aware and potentially change our body language, behaviour and mindset in those nerve-wracking situations. Cuddy presents all of her work with such passion to help those of us who are anxiety-ridden over job interviews, presentations or other situations of dread!

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Amy Cuddy

Amy Cuddy is known around the world for her 2012 TED Talk, which is the second-most-viewed talk in TED’s history. She is a professor and researcher at Harvard Business School who studies how nonverbal behavior and snap judgments influence people. Her research has been published in top academic journals and covered by NPR, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Economist, Wired, Fast Company, and more. Cuddy has been named a Game Changer by Time, a Rising Star by the Association for Psychological Science, one of 50 Women Who Are Changing the World by Business Insider, and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. She lives in Newton, Massachusetts.

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