This customer meeting was pivotal. It would determine whether we would have a chance at winning the biggest account in the industry or not. Messing it up would not only mean missing our targets at a country level for the year, but also make delivering on our strategy nigh on impossible. I felt sick with nerves. I was afraid that when I spoke I’d sound like I my voice was breaking. Actually I was just scared. What if I screwed this up? How was I going to cut through as the only female at the table? Adrenalin was pumping through my system and I could feel my heart thumping in my chest.
Not every meeting has this much riding on it, but the challenge of finding your voice and your power in a meeting is something I hear often. If you’ve ever had feedback that you need more “presence” (whatever that means?), this might be for you. Here are 4 tips that can help you in your every day to feel and act more confident and be perceived to be more powerful …..
1. Where you sit, influences where you stand
Throughout history, across cultures, there have been complicated rules about where you sit and how this relates to your status. Although generally there aren’t the rules there once were, there are still non-verbal, subconscious cues that we humans use to assess power and status. Research has found that if you sit at the head of the table you are more likely to be assumed the leader. Sitting at the midpoint on the side means you can see everyone which can also allow you to exert control. Another tip to increase your sense of power is to slightly increase the height of your chair compared to other people. Use the opposite if you feel the other person is threatened by your status.
2. Build on other people’s points
When I joined a big not for profit board, I was encouraged by the fact I felt I had the floor to make a point and everyone was open to what I had to say. However, I noticed that often the credit for the point that I’d made would be given to one of my male colleagues. It turned out he was using a very clever tactic (unconsciously I’m sure). He would always take what I said and then make it his own. He’d do this by saying things like “building on Claire’s point” or “further to Claire’s excellent point” ….and then he’d say pretty much what I’d just said. I got a bit fed up with this so I decided that I’d try his tactic and lo and behold, it worked! People remember the point as mine. I now use this tactic if I feel like my points are getting buried or someone else is taking credit. Try it in your next meeting!
3. Power Pose
Prior to an important meeting or speech spend a couple of minutes either standing up with your hands in a “V” above your head or with your hands on your hips and your legs in a V (Wonder Woman pose!). In the meeting sit up straight and actively use open body postures. You’ll feel more powerful and confident and others will perceive the same thing. Check out Amy Cuddy’s research and a 2011 study by Huang et al as examples of a big body of research around body posture and power. Amy Cuddy’s TED talk is really interesting even though there's been some controversy over whether it changes your body chemistry i.e. releases more testosterone and reduces cortisol). What’s indisputable is that power poses made the participants in the research both feel more powerful and be perceived as being more confident.
4. Think about a time when you felt powerful
Research suggests that simply thinking about having power can change the way you behave. In a 2013 study* researchers found that participants who'd written about a time they felt powerful were ranked as higher-status, more influential, and more leader-like by their colleagues. So before you go into that important meeting, performance review or speech, think about a time when you felt powerful and you’ll feel the impact ….and so will those watching you!
* Also correlates with the following research papers: Galinsky et al., 2003; Guinote, 2007; Smith & Trope, 2006