Amy Cuddy: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard Business School, explores how body language impacts confidence. She finds that “power poses” increase the body’s release of testosterone (the “dominance” hormone), while meek and submissive body language increase the body’s release of cortisol (the stress hormone). In this video, Cuddy explores how holding “power poses” for even just two minutes can have physiological responses that empower speakers in preparation for classes, interviews, and meetings. See her TED Talk here:


Fall In Love With Speaking Campaign: Tips & Tricks

This past week the Speaking Fellows hit the Diana Center for some Valentine’s Day themed tabling – to promote our initiative for Barnard Students to fall in love with speaking. We asked to students to do something very simple for the campaign:

  • Set a personal speaking goal and sign a pledge to work on it.
  • Write that goal somewhere it can be seen it every day.
  • Eat chocolate. Positive reinforcement.

Easy! We had incredible participation and the enthusiasm of the students was inspiring. We suggested a few speaking goals including eliminating fillers such as “like” from your vocabulary, participating more in class, and projecting more when speaking to a large room. But the students who signed the pledge were extremely creative and added many more positive goals to our list. To celebrate my own love of speaking, I’m going to give a few helpful tips for the most popular goals that were set this week.

  • Speak less in class

Observation: When I feel that I’m speaking too much in class the problem usually is not that I’m raising my hand too much or inserting myself too often, but rather that I’m taking up too much air-time and being long-winded when I do participate. In a session just last week I discussed this with a student who felt that she has many valid points and arguments to offer throughout any given class, but when given the opportunity to speak she tends to ramble, which makes her feel like she’s dominating discussion too much.

 Suggestion: Rather than curbing your participation overall, make sure that your participation is as succinct and salient as possible. In Session 2 “Classroom Discussions” we challenge students to first make a complex argument about a text, and then reduce the spoken content of their argument by 50%. In other words, find the most potent thesis statement of your point. Chances are that if you do this exercise before every time you contribute something in class, you’ll end up reducing your air time substantially, while preserving and even enhancing the integrity of your argument. Before you speak make sure you know what you’re going to say, and then try to say the same thing in 50% the amount of words. 

  • Speak more slowly

Observation: Students in my workshops speak quickly for any number of reasons – nerves, enthusiasm, a lot to say. I’ve noticed that speaking very quickly is usually combined with another common speaking habit: making one long sentence out of everything you have to say. When we get nervous or excited, we use fillers and conjunctions to make everything we want to say into one massive run-on sentence, and that sentence tends to come out very quickly 

Suggestion: Try to artificially punctuate the ends of your sentences with a 2-4 second pause. It will feel awkward to you at first, but it will seem completely natural to your audience and eventually the awkward feeling will go away. This will force you to be conscious about your individual sentences, it will preserve your breath and eliminate “nervous huffs” from your speech, and in my experience it will slow down your speech overall. Experiment with this exercise in class discussions for a while. Pausing deliberately after each sentence can be a very effective way of capturing your audience, preserving your breath, and pacing your speech.

  • Eliminate qualifiers

Observation: Qualifiers – which are phrases that disqualify what you’re about to say such as “I’m not an expert but,” “I think,” and “It’s just my opinion” – don’t just happen. Qualifiers happen for a reason. We use qualifiers when we doubt our own words, don’t feel that we are an authority on the subject we’re discussing, or don’t want to be perceived as argumentative or combative. For example, I regularly hear my classmates use the qualifier “I don’t disagree with you necessarily, I just have the feeling that…” right before they present an excellent counter-argument or contrasting piece of evidence in a discussion.

Suggestion: For the next few classes be aware of when you use qualifiers. If you’re really committed, write down the qualifier that you used and why you think you did it. For example: “I said ‘I feel that’ before presenting my Foucauldian analysis, because I didn’t want my classmate to think I found her analysis rudimentary.” After class remember what you said and think about ways you could have said the same thing without a qualifier. Ask yourself, “Did that qualifier actually accomplish anything? Did it contribute anything to my argument? How would I have come across differently if I had made that point without a qualifier?.”Then, when you’re ready, try to make it through a whole discussion with any qualifiers, and check in with yourself about how you feel. Always remember that qualifiers are not necessary, even if you’re worried about coming across as abrasive without them. There’s an important difference between making an argument and being argumentative. As long as your comments are contributing to the critical analysis of a topic, and are not ad hominem, there’s no reason to qualify your perfectly valid thoughts and opinions.

  • Stop saying “literally” when you don’t mean it

Observation: This one is particularly tricky for me to advise on, because it’s one of those trendy verbal habits. In many ways it’s a perfectly valid rhetorical device, a hyperbole fad (hyperbole: noun. obvious and intentional extravagant statement). It’s a way of exaggerating a statement for humor or impact. But unlike traditional hyperbole, saying “literally” when you don’t mean it, (e.g. “My heart literally stopped when I saw him with her”) puts the joke on you.

Suggestion: 1. Figure out when you say “literally” and when you note it in your vocabulary ask yourself this very annoying but useful question, “Literally? As opposed to figuratively?” 2. For a while just try to replace literally with other, more descriptive and equally compelling adverbs. Google around for synonyms, pick out a few winners, and experiment with them this week. This will direct your attention to what that specific word is contributing to your sentence, and eventually you should be able to eliminate adverbs entirely (they’re just awkward and redundant verbs!). Or just go for the classic ask your friends to flick you every time you say literally and don’t mean it. Personally, I prefer the first strategy.



Have a good weekend all – stay safe in the blizzard!

Speaking Fellow Humor: Critical Hand Gestures Tumblr

Back Hand

The Dialectic

Tiny Dialectic

1: The Back Hand. ‘I know I’ve said it before but I will say it again.’ Slap dominant hand into non-dominant hand. Use as a reinforcing gesture when critical opponent seems unresponsive.

2. The Dialectic: ‘This is a dialectic and I’m going to explain it.’ Grip imaginary six centimetre object between thumb and forefinger. Rotate wrist ninety degrees, snapping into end position. Smoothly rotate back to start. Repeat up to three times depending on conviction. Use when expressing a shift from one thing to another. Highly infectious.

3. The Tiny Dialectic. ‘I’m making a very fine distinction.’ Follow directions for ‘The Dialectic’ but with thumb and forefinger one centimetre apart. Bring hand toward eyes for closer inspection. Use when unpicking specific detail, or when too self-conscious to use ‘The Dialectic’ gesture.

Courtesy of:

The Science of Nonverbal Communication

The Science of Nonverbal Communication

Dustin York, a professor at Maryville University, reports, “I conducted an experiment with four identical university classes with a total of 80 students. Each class had a guest speaker who presented. Two of those presenters used effective nonverbal communication, while the others used poor nonverbal communication… Following the presentation, each class took the same test, which questioned them about the information they were just given. The effective nonverbal communication courses scored almost 30 percent higher on the test than students in the poor nonverbal communication courses.”

Credit for this great find: Daniela Kempf

What really is the value of a public speaking class?

$588.87, in Manhattan.


It started with a simple question: If you wanted to enroll in a public speaking class outside of undergrad, how much would you have to shell out?

As I visited first-year seminars this week to introduce the program, I hit on all of my usual points about the Speaking Fellows: we work peer-to-peer, we are professionally trained, we are flexible and accessible, and we are free. I’ve always mentioned that last point to contrast what public speaking classes can cost outside of undergrad, but without any real statistics. So this week I set out on a quest to discover what really is the value of a public speaking class outside of Barnard.

I started my search an a good aggregator of classes and workshops in NYC. They compile classes, workshops, sessions etc. from large professional companies and also “hackerspaces,” pop-up shops, and peer-to-peer classes. I used this source to get the full range: public speech classes geared towards corporate professions, and public speaking workshops for the average small business person, storyteller, New Yorker…

I made a list of the top twenty-five Public Speaking classes offered during fall 2013 – “top” referring to their listings on search engines, so that means a combination of popularity, number of reviews, web-presence, and other factors. There may be more then 25 classes offered this fall, but if they exist then they are very hard to find online outside of a private network – so I’m confident that my list of 25 is a good representative sample of the kinds and costs of Public Speaking workshops offered in Manhattan.

I made a chart of the course title, organization offering the course, location, dates and duration, and cost. I imported the chart into ArcGIS to map the results.


The most expensive program I encountered cost $2699.00 dollars for a three day workshop, offered by NetCom Learning.

The least expensive workshops ranged between $25.00 and $35.00 for hour to two-hour long sessions, offered by The Story Source.

The average cost of a public speaking workshop in Manhattan is $588.87.

I make no claim in my research to know anything about the quality of the classes I’ve investigated or the organizations that offer them, but assuming all else equal, I can draw a few conclusions. (1) Supply and demand. New Yorkers (a) want public speech classes and (b) are willing to pay for them – $588.87 on average. (2) Public speech classes are remarkably versatile and do not strictly target corporate/professional/executive fields.They focus (just like the Speaking Center) on a range of topics from executive presentation skills, to pitching articles and blogs, to storytelling, to overcoming public speaking panic, to conflict resolution and negotiation, to sales and marketing. (3) The training I received to become a speaking fellow – 1 semester of theory seminars, skills labs, coaching sessions, practice workshops, etc. – is utterly incomparable to any other public speaking skills course offered in New York City.

A Guide for Intern Employers

I had two very different internship experiences this summer. One position was working in the public sector for a municipal government, the other was in the private sector for a very small media firm. Day One at City Hall, I was given an extensive handbook of Rules and Regs for Summer Interns. Day One at the media firm, I was greeted by one kind man who told me a little about their work philosophy and showed me to a desk, and then said come back tomorrow. I subsequently followed up with, “Well what time should I show up? And what do I do when I get here?”

Myriad positive and negative intern experiences have helped me develop my personal pithy handbook of intern do’s and don’ts (for example, asking “What’s your timeline on this?” is now second nature), but as a result of these polarizing experiences, I was compelled to come up with a similar list of handy helpfuls for my employers. The following bullets are the result of my (occasionally exaggerated for comic emphasis but otherwise sincere) brainstorm.


– Pay us. For arguments as to why, look EVERYWHERE. Just because it is standard practice and we are used to it, does not mean it is okay to hire us without any securities, without protection from discrimination or harassment, and without a fair playing field for those who don’t have the financial support from their parents to live for free during a summer or term.

– CLUE US IN ON DAY ONE. We are wide-eyed babies. If you have a specific dress code, please tell us. If employees and interns meet to give an update on their projects every Friday morning, please tell us before Friday morning. If the office is locked until 8:30 AM on Mondays, don’t tell us to show up a 7:45 AM every day. We learn quickly, but help us avoid being the last one in on the routine.

– If you are a politician with interns, you should probably meet your own interns. I have heard that the president does the kindness of taking one photo with his interns, ’nuff said.

– If there has ever existed a permanent and paid position for a certain type of work in your organization (i.e. data entry, office management, admin assistance), interns should by no means replace that permanent and paid position. Seriously, we know it is tempting, and we are totally on board for the administrative help you need, but we are not here forever.

– Give us a schedule, give us projects, give us FEEDBACK. Nothing is more disappointing than pursuing a project in the wrong direction for two weeks before you take a glance at it.

– Again, tell us up front. If we are going to be walking between meetings, if there is a great opportunity to Q&A with the CEO/partner/fundraiser/mayor after hours, if you’re going on vacation, if all office memos should always be in Calibri, if the printer always makes that noise… we need to know.

– Trust us. We know you work too much. Let us help. Seriously, we are eager.


…you will not have time to train them, give them some feedback and accountability, and actually let them learn from you.

…you can not trust anyone other than a full time employee to interface at the most basic level with a partner/client/higher-up, i.e. answering phones or welcoming guests at the office.

…you put your mind to it and really can not come up with a job title for the work that an intern is doing at your firm/organization. In my grammar school we had teachers for this called “floaters.” In theory it is a noble position, experiencing a little bit of everything and making everyone’s lives easier. In practice, it usually results in interns who finish a four month commitment without a single completed project to show for it. Good examples are Software Development Intern, Legislative Drafting Intern, Copy Editing Intern, Product Management Intern, etc. “Intern” itself is not a job title.