Presence By Amy Cuddy – Book Summary

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Amy Cuddy, the author of Presence, developed the book from her famous TED Talk on body language and power poses. She draws inspiration for the book from all the nerve-wracking circumstances in the world. If someone has ever had a bad interview, they know they would do anything to overturn it. Every other stressful situation is always dealt with caution, too.

The title of the book is also the secret in the book. Cuddy writes about the importance of existing in a condition of “presence”. By channeling the power of “presence”, we worry less about our impression on others and modify it to suit our needs. The book also suggests that perfect body language will not come to us overnight, instead will develop with small steps. By adjusting one element of it per day, soon we will achieve the desired posture.

Amy Cuddy is a Harvard University professor and employed all kinds of research tools to write the book. She has described the findings of her research in simple terms to not stress the author about the complexity of the book. The aim of Presence is to relieve people from high-stress environments and perform our best by connecting to ourselves as well as others.


1. The concept of “Presence”

It is a known fact that if our mind wanders to another place, we will be unable to perform at the task we have undertaken. The importance of being present is well-known and crucial. If we convince our minds to be excited and confident, it will not wander off.

Being excited is what drives a person to finish the task they have undertaken, while confidence lets them do the task to their best ability. Combining both these elements gives self-assured enthusiasm, which is the best trait a person with a goal can imbibe. It is a foremost predictor of success and imparts the person with traits such as drive, creativity, hard work, persistence, and initiative to name a few.

These traits are inherently true for an individual – which means they cannot be faked. Hence, these culminate into our power of Presence. Once we have achieved self-assured enthusiasm, we will be able to be true to ourselves, our feelings, and our beliefs.

2. How to manifest Presence

Power from Presence can be harnessed by trying to satisfy ourselves more than others. By modifying and tweaking minute flaws each day, we will soon observe that we have a self-induced Presence. Ultimately, the goal should be of how we want to perceive ourselves instead of how people want us to be. Once we have control over our Presence, we will exude it via communication and synchrony.

3. Types of high self-esteem

There are two types of self-esteem. A person who has achieved the power of Presence will soon build higher self-esteem.

  • Fragile high self-esteem is based on external validation. These people have fragile self-esteem in the sense that their value is built upon the feedback of other people. If the feedback continues to be positive, the esteem will be maintained. However, if the feedback or reaction is contrasting with the beliefs of the person, their esteem will come crashing down. Their reaction would be defensive, thus explaining the fragility of their self-esteem.
  • Secure high self-esteem is the kind of self-esteem we must desire to achieve. A person who is secure with their esteem will not depend on external validation. Instead, their esteem can be traced back to within themselves. However, self-confidence must not borderline on arrogance.

4. Synchrony

Asynchronous self keeps our emotions, feelings, and actions in harmony. It allows us to act according to our emotions and emote based on our feelings. Aligning the three elements allows us to be authentic and true to ourselves. Even if we communicate the wrong feelings, our bodies will display the true ones via body language. A person who can read body language will recognize the façade of the person. Thus, it is much safer and easier to be synchronous.

5. Self-affirmation

Self-affirmation is the practice of knowing that is authentic in us and what matters to us the most. A study on psychological presence by William Kahn revealed that there are four dimensions of self-affirmation – focused, integrated, attentive, and connected. By enhancing these four dimensions, a person can achieve personal accessibility. It proves accessibility to work, to coexist, and to grow.

6. Warmth and Competence

A person judges another person based on what they display to the world. Thus, we make our conclusions about the person based on the projections of their personality. The author divides the types of personality into warm and competent. The combinations of these two traits help us determine what kind of person they are.

Most people prefer a warm person to a competent person. But a wholly warm personality is rare, and people are mostly found with both. Thus, the divisions are –

  1. Loveable fools are people who are more warm than competent.
  2. Competent jerks possess more competency than warmth.
  3. Foolish jerks are warm but incompetent, and
  4. Loveable stars are both warm and competent.

A survey revealed that most people prefer an unlikeable but a good leader over an untrustworthy one. Trust is a trait that originates from Presence. We cannot make others trust if we do not believe in our beliefs.

7. Imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome is commonly felt when a person thinks they are a fraud. The syndrome has people thinking that they are not true to themselves and are living someone else’s life – thus, like an imposter. The syndrome is associated with high perfectionists. Since perfectionists put a lot of effort into a certain task, failure in the task is harder for them to accept. Thus, the feeling of fraud creeps into them. This leads to lower self-esteem, introversion, and low self-confidence. Feeling Presence is extremely important for these people.

8. Personal power vs Social power

Personal power frees us of the expectations of the others and helps us concentrate on what our mind needs. On the other hand, social power keeps us confined to a headspace of having to please others. Social power is the thirst of wanting to dominate and exert pressure on others, whereas personal power helps us dictate our actions.

The starting point of harnessing power must be personal power. As mentioned before, we cannot convince anyone if we are not convinced ourselves. But for managerial positions, social power is a compulsion. Thus, if we need to channel social power, we must first earn personal power. Once personal power is perfected, social power will develop smoothly.

9. Powerlessness

Being powerless means that we have lost control over everything – internal as well as external. Such a situation can be mentally taxing since being in control tends to keep us sane. Powerlessness is accompanied by feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. It hinders the process of thinking and goal planning.

It is a misconception that people notice every small detail about us – called the spotlight effect. Most people tend to ignore the fine details and focus on large events. The spotlight effect can make one seem powerless since they feel they are under the constant watch of better people. Thus, before we expect to exert social power, we must develop personal power.

10. Body language

Body language is a contributor to personal power. If our words match our body language, the transmission of a message is crystal clear. Cuddy elaborates on this point by mentioning a haka performed by the New Zealand rugby team. The haka is dominant and intimidating, directly influencing their power over the opposition. It is the body language of the players, combined with their desire to win, that can coerce the opponent.

Imbibing other body language cues, such as maintaining eye contact, can improve our presence. While people may not consciously detect body language, they register it on a subconscious level. A similar trick can be performed by our minds as well. It can detect the subtle cues of body language and affect our mood. Thus, our primary objective should be to convince ourselves of confidence instead of convincing others.

11. Building Presence

Psychologists supporting the Facial Feedback Hypothesis dictate that the simple act of smiling can put a person in a better mood. While it may not solve all the problems, it can charge up the mind to concentrate on the problem at hand. Such small tricks can be used to build our Presence and personal power.

Practicing breathing exercises is another way of relaxing. It also has several biological benefits such as decreased blood pressure, improves optimism, and pain management. Yoga and meditation also contribute significantly to this and imparts biological advantage. Since the aim is to develop personal power, we are independent of others and can do it at our convenience.

12. Body pose and posture

How we carry ourselves is also an indicator of Presence and personal power. Our mind also contributes to our posture. A person who is worried and overthinking will have a powerless posture. Since the mind is occupied in thought, it fails to communicate to the body. Thus, their feelings are displayed through their mind as well as body.

Thus, to be able to appear strong, we must train our minds to be so. Our mind needs to take charge of the situation and communicate accordingly with our body. Expanding the mind helps with high power poses, while a constricted mind paves way for a low power pose.

We also need to practice our power poses. People often do their favorite power pose in the morning to get into the habit of striking it throughout the day. We must also pay attention to the other body language cues we are missing out on and rectify them.

13. Self-nudging

To develop Presence, we must make an effort in ourselves. We must pay attention to our shortcomings and ‘nudge’ ourselves to rectify them. These nudges, once the flaws are recognized, require minimal effort to rectify. One must concentrate on the journey of development instead of getting upset over not achieving the desired result.

Nudges pertaining to emotions must be threaded carefully. We must not aim at lowering the intensity of the emotion, instead aim at converting the emotion. It must be a transition from a negative emotion to a positive one. These small ‘baby steps’ will soon develop into something worthwhile and powerful.

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