A few years ago, the idea of “power poses” — that is, physical stances that increase the dynamism of one’s personality — gained a great many adherents in a very short time, but not long thereafter emerged doubts as to its scientific soundness. Nevertheless, while standing with your hands on your hips may not change who you are, we can fairly claim that such a thing as body language does exist. And in that language, certain bodily arrangements communicate better messages than others: according to the presenters of the talk above, keeping your hands power-poseishly on your hips is actually a textbook bad public-speaking position, down there with shoving them in your pockets or clasping them before you in the dreaded “fig leaf.”
Now viewed well over 5.5 million times, “Make Body Language Your Superpower” was originally delivered as the final project of a team of graduate students at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. That same institution gave us lecturer Matt Abrahams’ talk “Think Fast, Talk Smart,” which, with its 23 million views and counting, suggests its campus possesses a literal fount of public-speaking wisdom.
Working as a team, these students keep it short and simple, accompanying their talk with takeaway-announcing Powerpoint slides (“1. Posture breeds success, 2. Gestures strengthen our message, 3. The audience’s body matters too”) and even a video clip that vividly illustrates what not to do: in this case, with a fidgety, rotation-heavy turn on stage by Armageddon and Transformers auteur Michael Bay.
Though we can’t hear what Bay is saying, we couldn’t be blamed for assuming it’s not the truth. That owes not so much to the Hollywood penchant for dissimulation and hyperbole as it does to his particular stances, gestures, and perambulations, all of a kind that primes our subconsciousness to expect lies. “We all want to avoid our own Michael Bay moments when we communicate,” says one of the presenters, but even when we take pains to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, the defensive postures into which many of us instinctively retreat can undercut our efforts. “Decoding Deceptive Body Language,” the talk just above, can help us learn both to identify the impression of dishonesty and to avoid giving it ourselves. Not that it’s always easy: as the example of Bill Clinton underscores in both these presentations, even master communicators have their slip-ups.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.