Amy Cuddy’s captivating talk on body language, delivered at TEDGlobal 2012, ranks as one of the top 30 most-viewed TED talks with more than 3 million views. The social psychologist’s topic obviously struck a chord with a mass audience, and presenters around the world should also sit up and take note, as body language is a crucial consideration when delivering a presentation.
Cuddy’s talk is wonderfully funny and lighthearted throughout, which is effective in tearing down the wall between speaker and audience. She shows humorous photos and videos of politicians caught in awkward non-verbal expressions, and she solicits smiles by showing cute photos of furry animals posed in high power and low power positions. In short, Cuddy succeeds in bringing her academic, intellectual observations down to an accessible level for the audience. She sidesteps the dreaded Curse of Knowledge in a big way. Even her graphs depicting a study’s data are simplistic, clear and easy to understand.
But the great strength of her talk can be found in her poignant storytelling. She tells a slue of wonderfully pertinent stories, and her stories avoid sounding like rigid case studies because of how compassionately she tells them. All these stories lead up to the most poignant and touching of all, and that’s her personal story. She relates how she got in a terrible car accident as a young woman and was told she wouldn’t be able to finish undergrad. She tells the audience how, in grad school, she felt like “she wasn’t supposed to be here,” but she continued to work and work to succeed in academia. Cuddy’s voice breaks as she tells of the young student who came to her and said, “I’m not supposed to be here,” and she chokes up when she tells us her response.
We must work to conjure this kind of genuine emotion in our presentations. We mustn’t exaggerate or placate our emotions, but we should try to give a little bit of ourselves to our audience to foster and solidify a connection.
Cuddy’s final takeaway is one that all presenters should take to heart: “Don’t fake it it till you make it. Fake it till you become it.”