Make Body Language Your Superpower: A 15-Minute Primer on Body Language & Public Speaking from Stanford Business School

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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How to Get Over the Anx­i­ety of Pub­lic Speak­ing?: Watch the Stan­ford Video, “Think Fast, Talk Smart,” Viewed Already 15 Mil­lion Times

How to Speak: Watch the Lec­ture on Effec­tive Com­mu­ni­ca­tion That Became an MIT Tra­di­tion for Over 40 Years

Can You Spot Liars Through Their Body Lan­guage? A For­mer FBI Agent Breaks Down the Clues in Non-Ver­bal Com­mu­ni­ca­tion

How to Spot Bull­shit: A Primer by Prince­ton Philoso­pher Har­ry Frank­furt

How to Sound Smart in a TED Talk: A Fun­ny Primer by Sat­ur­day Night Live‘s Will Stephen

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.

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