TC 286: Cafe Book Club – Presence by Amy Cuddy

TC 286: Cafe Book Club – Presence by Amy Cuddy

It’s time to get bold! This week we have a powerful group discussion about Presence.

In the Cafe Book Club we’re reading Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy, PhD, Social Psychologist and Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.

Amy is best known for her research on stereotyping and discrimination, emotions, power, nonverbal behavior, and the effects of social stimuli on hormone levels. And after listening to her and reading more about her, I think she is just a really good person.

Since how one is perceived plays an important part in one’s success, Presence is featured in Success Magazine’s January 2016 Reading List.  It’s also on top of many other lists as one of the top business books of 2015. So what has people everywhere so intrigued?

Amy Cuddy’s research on body language reveals that we can change other people’s perceptions — and even our own body chemistry — simply by changing body positions.

In the introduction Amy Cuddy talks about personal power:

“The opposite of powerlessness must be power, right? In a sense that’s true, but it’s not quite that simple. The research I’ve been doing for years now joins a large body of inquiry into a quality I call Presence. Presence stems from believing in and trusting yourself –your real, honest feelings, values, and abilities. That’s important, because if you don’t trust yourself, how can others trust you? Whether we are talking in front of two people or five thousand, interviewing for a job, negotiating for a raise, or pitching a business idea to potential investors, speaking up for ourselves or speaking up for someone else, we all face daunting moments that must be met with poise if we want to feel good about ourselves and make progress in our lives. Presence gives us the power to rise to these moments.”

amy cuddy

Amy’s story of serious brain injury

Amy Cuddy is an amazing person. She connects her research in social science to how it actually plays out in the real world. She recounts suffering from a traumatic brain injury as a result of a serious car accident while she was only 19.  It took her many years to recover, and the person she had been had ceased to exist. Her personality had changed. Her IQ dropped 30 points. She had to drop out of college. She briefly recounts this story in her TED talk which you can watch below.

After much effort she had to relearn how to learn, and study much harder than her peers. It took her four extra years, but she finished college. She says that one of the reasons she persisted was that she’d found something she liked to study: psychology. After college “I managed to enter a profession that required a fully functioning brain. . . . Along the way, not surprisingly, I became a person for whom all these questions of presence and power, of confidence and doubt, took on a great deal of significance.”

More than 28 million people have watched Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk, “How Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are.” It is ranked second among the most-viewed TED talks.

In this week’s conversation, Cafe regular Amy Frost references the following quote:

“What You Do Speaks So Loudly I Cannot Hear What You Are Saying”

– attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson

In case you’re wondering what Ralph Waldo Emerson really said, here’s a link to a very interesting article. And another great resource can be found on Quote Investigator. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming!

 The Elevator Speech

In the chapter “What is Presence?”, Amy Cuddy recounts a story of when she was a doctoral candidate at an annual conference attended by some of the best social psychologists in the world. She was feeling incredibly anxious about it, since this is where the aspiring Ph.D. hoped to impress one of the luminaries in her field and possibly land a job as a professor. She found herself in an elevator with three people – all well established figures in the field. Then one of the “rock stars” casually said “Fine. We’re in an elevator. Let’s hear your pitch.”

What happened next was an epic fail.

“The next time your faced with one of these tense moments, imagine approaching it with confidence and excitement instead of doubt and dread. Imagine feeling energized and at ease while you’re there, liberated from your fears about how others might be judging you. And imagine leaving it without regret, satisfied that you did your best, regardless of the measurable outcome. Not phantom to be chased; no spirits under the stairs.”

The Wisdom of Insecurity

One of the books that Amy quotes in this chapter is The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety by Alan Watts. “To understand music, you must listen to it. But so long as you are thinking ‘I am listening to music,’ you are not listening.” This idea translates to a job interview. “When you are in a job interview, thinking ‘I am in a job interview,’ you can’t understand or engage fully with the interviewer or present the self you’d like to present – your truest, sharpest, boldest, most relaxed self.”


Amy’s Definition of Presence

Presence, as I mean it throughout these pages, is the state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values, and potential. That’s it. It is not a permanent, transcendent mode of being. It comes and goes. It is a moment-to-moment phenomenon.”

We are very excited to continue our study of this powerful book. Join in the conversation by leaving a comment below, or head over to our Forum and join in the discussion!

Upcoming Big Ideas from Presence

  • Presence – Attuned and expressing your personal power
  • Self-Affirmation Theory – You’re Awesome!
  • Priming and Nudges – Build your personal power
  • Expand your Body – to expand your personal power
  • iHunch – Hunching over your phone diminishes your power
  • “I’m Excited!” – Reframe feelings of fear or nervousness as excitement
  • Boldest Version of You – Move like that. Today.


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