How are you sitting right now? Are you slouching with humped shoulders?  Is your neck holding your head in a drooped position?  Or are you sitting tall – chest up, back straight, with both feet on the ground?  Take note – you’d be surprised how much these things matter to your self-confidence. 

Amy Cuddy, celebrated TED Talk presenter, neuroscience and psychology professor, and author of Presence, proves in no uncertain terms that way you carry yourself tells people how to treat you.  Surprisingly, your confidence can be improved simply by sitting or standing like a confident person.  Most people think that they can only move confidently when they feel confident.  But according to Cuddy, that’s not true at all.

How it Works in a Nutshell

Cuddy states that the way we move creates changes in our hormonal levels, because our body signals to our brain how we are feeling.  Confidence and feeling good is associated with lower cortisol levels and higher testosterone levels (even in women).  When we adopt the body positions or vocal intonations of a powerful person, we can trick the brain into lowering cortisol and raising our testosterone – hence creating the actual feeling of power and confidence.  It becomes a virtuous circle. 

There are two distinct ways to take up space – physically and vocally.  Both can make you feel powerful individually, but together, they can make you feel unstoppable.

Go Ahead – Take up Physical Space!

Many of us unconsciously close off our bodies to make ourselves small.  We crouch, cross our arms, and wrap our ankles to take up less space.  If this is you, don’t despair.  Many of us (especially women) have been trained to make ourselves small for fear of calling attention to ourselves.  That might be considered polite in some circles, but at work, it can make you seem less authoritative and competent. 

Powerful people take up space.  They know that they are important and don’t shy away from using the space they perceive they need. How can you do what they do?

First, when you walk into a meeting room, choose your chair and put your arms firmly on the table, claiming the space allotted to your seat.  You don’t need to spill your things outside your space, but likewise, don’t be afraid to take up the entirety of the area in front of you.

If you’re the first person in a meeting room, claim a space by putting your drink, computer or bag on the table or on a seat. Choose a seat near the front of the room with a view of the door, then stay standing up until the other attendees come into the room.  According to Cuddy, this signals that the later attendees are coming into your space.  You become the de facto host of the meeting, even if you are just there to show support. 

If staying standing feels awkward, try reading email on your phone while you wait.  If you really can’t manage to stand, be sure to get up immediately when others come into the room to shake hands.  If you stay seated when other come into the room, they will be inhabiting a space higher than you, which signals dominance. 

Take Up Vocal Space

Physical space isn’t the only kind – you can also maintain vocal space.  According to Cuddy, talking overly quickly is associated with a lack of confidence.  This is because people who talk too quickly are perceived as trying to get everything they want to say out in anticipation of being interrupted.  The rate of your speech is strongly affected by culture.  Some dialects (like the classic New Yorker) move more quickly than the languid pace of the American South.  Nevertheless, you can choose how quickly you speak when you become consciously aware of it.

Try to speak deliberately and in a slower manner, using deep breaths to slow you down.  Use your voice at an appropriately loud volume so that people know you’re confident in what you are saying.  Confident people speak deliberately, and at a volume that ensures people can hear them clearly.

In addition to speaking deliberately slowly, don’t be afraid to pause.  By pausing, you show confidence, because a pause invites others to hang on your next words, or to think more deeply about what you’ve just said.  Speaking coaches teach professional speakers to pause prior to changing ideas or topics within the speech.  Not only does this show command of the topic, it gives the audience time to recognize that a new discussion is coming.  Use this technique to show mastery.

Don’t be afraid to take up space.  You’re just as worthy as anyone to fill the room with your voice and presence, so act like it.  Even if you don’t feel powerful when you start, by using your voice and body in a powerful way, you’ll soon not only feel powerful, but be powerful as well.