Saturday, July 17, 2021
In a recent meeting about teaching Legal Writing, an experienced appellate advocate mentioned practicing “power poses” as part of her prep for an oral argument at the Ninth Circuit. While her comment was a nice way to add humor and humanity to the conversation, the idea of using power poses to add confidence before oral argument stuck with me long after the meeting concluded.
I decided to check out the TED Talk on power poses the advocate mentioned in our meeting: Social Psychologist and Harvard Business Law Professor Amy Cuddy’s TEDGlobal 2012 Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are. https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_may_shape_who_you_are. The TED Talk website has a disclaimer at the beginning of Prof. Cuddy’s talk, explaining, “Some of the findings presented in this talk have been referenced in an ongoing debate among social scientists about robustness and reproducibility.” Id. Keeping in mind the debate about the science behind some of Prof. Cuddy’s premises, I decided to focus more on her overall points about body language.
Prof. Cuddy’s general theme is that "power posing" by standing or sitting in a posture of confidence--even when we do not feel confident--can boost subjective feelings of confidence and thereby possibly impact success. Id. She initially focused on non-verbal communications, especially posture, among her MBA students. Cuddy noticed her students who made themselves smaller, with hunched shoulders and crossed arms and legs, tended to earn lower grades than the students whose posture took more space. Looking at controlled human subject students and primates with her collaborator, Prof. Dana Carney of Berkeley, Cuddy also saw a connection between testosterone and cortisone levels and use of power poses like the “Wonder Woman” and “Victory” stances with arms outstretched. Thus, Prof. Cuddy hypothesized people who sit hunched over before a job interview, or in our case an oral argument, will have less confidence than those who stand for a few minutes privately in a power pose before an important talk. See id. Prof. Cuddy stressed she does not believe the power poses are for use “with other people” or to have any impact on substance, but instead can help us feel more comfortable with ourselves and thus preform better. Id.
Commentator Kate Torgovnick May summarized Prof. Cuddy’s point as: “[B]efore heading into a job interview, giving a big speech or attempting an athletic feat . . . everyone should spend two minutes power posing [by] adopting the stances associated with confidence, power and achievement — chest lifted, head held high, arms either up or propped on the hips.” Kate Torgovnick May, Some Examples of How Power Posing Can Actually Boost your Confidence (Oct. 1, 2012) https://blog.ted.com/10-examples-of-how-power-posing-can-work-to-boost-your-confidence/. Torgovnick May provides several testimonials from people who successfully used “Wonder Woman” or other power poses before important classes, interviews, and presentations. See, e.g., id. (“It’s nice to see that there’s scientific support for Oscar Hammerstein’s King and I lyrics: ‘Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect and whistle a happy tune, so no one will suspect I’m afraid …The result of this deception is very strange to tell, for when I fool the people I fear, I fool myself as well.’”)
In bringing these ideas back to my own life, and to our Appellate Advocacy blog, the mom in me could not help but remember my own lawyer mother teaching my sister and me to walk with books on our heads. My mom--like so many other parents—wanted her girls to stand up straight and have confidence. I regularly chide my very tall sons for hunching over, admonishing them to “put back” their shoulders and “stand up straight.” While the scientific community debates the precise reliability of Prof. Cuddy’s work, I know standing with confidence can indeed help me feel and look more confident in court and in the classroom.
Therefore, I recommend you check out Prof. Cuddy’s TED Talk, as well as the debate on her research. And the next time you are especially nervous about an oral argument or presentation, spend two minutes in a power pose. Hopefully, you can smile thinking about the parent, auntie, teacher, or other adult who told you to “stand up straight” years ago. And perhaps this technique will give you increased confidence too.