Cure for public-speaking jitters: Stand like a starfish
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Cure for public-speaking jitters: Stand like a starfish

Two minutes spent pretending to be a starfish could be the answer to your corporate jitters. Sure, it sounds outlandish, but laboratory studies suggest that adopting a so-called power pose could make the difference between success or failure in the workplace.

If you are worried about an upcoming job interview or a stressful encounter in the office, mastering the art of controlling your body language, or "non-verbal cues," could be a solution.

"People have a lot of control over their ability to rise to the occasion and to show their best or their aspirational selves,” said Amy Cuddy, associate professor at Harvard Business School and author of Make Yourself Big: How the Body Shapes the Mind.

Humans are biologically wired to reflect our mood in the way we look, said Cuddy. She claims we can change the impression we make by 'thinking big,’ just before an important meeting or interview.

All in our chemistry 

Laboratory experiments suggest our body biochemistry can be manipulated to produce a greater sense of confidence and control, simply by changing our posture.

In one study, researchers randomly assigned people to either a “high power” pose, such as hands in the air, or a “low power” pose, including hunching over and crossing arms. After giving a saliva sample to measure their baseline hormone levels, subjects were left in a room for two minutes in their high or low pose. 

They were then subjected to behavioural tests. In one they were given a little extra money and challenged to gamble. The power pose adopters were the most likely to gamble.

Subsequent saliva tests showed that power poses caused an increase testosterone levels by 20% and cortisol levels reduced by 25%. Testosterone is associated with confidence and cortisol is linked to stress. Low-power poses had the opposite effect, reducing testosterone by 10% and increasing cortisol by 15%.

"This is so much about being present in the moment,” said Cuddy. “It’s pretty simple and actionable if you have a body and some privacy."

Not in front of boss 

The key, says Cuddy, is to adopt the pose before you walk into a situation where you need to impress. Avoid chest puffing or big arm gesticulations in front of your boss.

The science suggests that only a short period spent adopting a power pose, could have a significant, positive effect on your dominance and status. 

Anecdotal evidence also suggests that this behaviour could help alleviate depression. Some people have reported that when they adopt a power pose they are not able to hold on to negative feelings. 

In a surprising twist, Cuddy also believes the same principles apply in the digital world and may affect remote workers. Assuming the persona of a tall avatar could, for example, give someone the edge in an online negotiation or debate, she suggests.

Further research is needed fully to understand the mechanisms that link body posture to body biochemistry and human interaction. But power posing could be a first step towards taking control in an body conscious workplace. 

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