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!

So the semester begins once again…

At the beginning of any course, be it seminar or lecture, we see the establishment of a hierarchy amongst students: there are the ones who speak up, the ones who ask questions, and the ones who fall to wayside and remain quiet. Here are some ways to avoid being silenced, feeling intimidated, or missing out on class participation credit:

1. The beginning of the class sets the tone for the rest of the semester. If you can, speak up early; commenting at least once during the first week of a seminar helps you settle in and get more comfortable with talking to your classmates.

2. During the beginning of a lecture course, don’t be afraid to ask questions. There is an unspoken assumption amongst students that asking a question is somehow connected in some mysterious, vague way to a person’s intelligence; this is false. Chances are, the topics you’re confused about are also confusing to 50% of the class. Be inquisitive! That’s how knowledge works!

3. Seminars are notorious for cyclic, unconnected comments. Instead of holding on to one nugget of information to contribute to the discussion when it’s somewhat relevant, try something radical: listen to what your peers are saying and respond directly. LOOK THEM IN THE EYE. Start a discussion with the people at the table; talk to THEM, not the professor. Chances are once you realize that a) you have a basic agree/disagree opinion about everything and b) you can set the tone for conversation, the seminar is your oyster! Your professor will definitely take note.

4. Don’t be afraid to approach your professor after class or during office hours early to establish some type of familiarity. In a lecture of 150 students, each face is hard to remember in connection with a name, so make sure to talk to them at some point. LTP: professors are also human beings.

5. DO NOT, and I repeat, DO NOT leave online response quotas for last minute, and don’t presume that because you’re online you can put in less effort. if your professor uses the courseworks discussion section for questions, comments or debates, dig into it just as you would in the classroom. Your professor reads all the contributions and often incorporates your ideas, so give them something to think about!

Remember, we’re here to learn and grow as thinkers. That means enjoying a good, spirited discussion or leaving a lecture fascinated by the material: on a deeper level, it means discovering a new way of knowing. Be open-minded when approaching a new subject or radically different material – you’ll be impressed by how much more you can accomplish.

And if all else fails, that’s what the shopping period is for.

Speaking with

It’s easy to think of public speaking as a solitary act. Probably largely because when you’re the one presenting, you feel like all eyes are on you, all the pressure is on you, and often you’re alone up there.
But I believe it is important to look beyond the person speaking. You cannot do this in a vacuum. There’s an audience that you have to be connecting with and building a relationship with. It’s kind of a thing.
This tangentially occurred to me in a Reacting to the Past class. For those of you unfamiliar with Reacting, it is a pedagogic approach where students are assigned historical roles and reenact important historical moments. In any case, a student voiced concern about her public speaking ability. The professor reassured her that commitment to her role, historical accuracy, and goals within the game would help her forget these insecurities.
When facing public speaking, it is easy to think of the speech act itself as the end all. This is, however, rarely the case. You’re presenting on something, to someone (many people), for some reason.
This is similar to the essay writing process for me. “Oh mannnn–I have to write an essay. Ugh. This is gonna be horrible,” I think. However, once I really concentrate on and explore my topic, the self-doubt and procrastination are both allayed.