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Body language can be great equalizer for women, prof says

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Changing your body language can actually change body chemistry, research shows.

Want to be more successful in your next business meeting?

Try striking a "power pose," by standing tall and straight with an open posture. And whatever you do don't hunch over and make yourself "tiny," says Amy Cuddy, an associate professor at Harvard Business School.

Body language is especially important for women, who can easily be overshadowed in meetings by men, who naturally take up more space.

But Cuddy, who has done years of research on the topic, says both men and women can use body language to actually raise their testosterone levels and lower the levels of the anxiety-producing hormone cortisol.

Cuddy's views on the subject have gone viral after she told her own moving story before a packed audience at a TED conference earlier this year.

The speech became a ‘moment’ at the conference when Cuddy became overcome by emotion in describing her own experience counseling a young woman who thought she “did not belong” in business school.

“Stay and fake it, you’re going to make yourself powerful. And you know you’re gonna…,” Cuddy said, suddenly pausing and stopping, tears welling in her eyes.  A supportive audience coaxed her on with extended applause and she regained her poise. "And you're going to go into the classroom, and you are going to give the best comment ever."

The student overcame her doubts and became a success “because she had not just faked it until she made it. She faked it until she became it.”

Cuddy went through her own crisis of confidence in becoming an advocate of body language as a transformative process.  A victim of a traumatic car accident while she was in college, she displayed signs of brain damage and was told she would not be able to finish college. She dropped out for a time.

A college adviser who saw her innate intelligence and wanted to help her back onto a successful academic track told her she needed to work on her confidence by speaking in front of people.

“Just do it and do it and do it, even if you are terrified,” was the advice she took to heart as she rose through the ranks of teaching and became known for her research. 

Cuddy in an article on Inc.com, suggested business people should "should be walking around the hallway, putting your arms up."

"Sit at your desk and put your feet up on it," she said, offering an example of the "power pose." "Stand on your tiptoes with your hands in the air. When you go into a sales meeting, you want to be as squared off and tall as you naturally can be. If you're sitting down, you might consider not crossing your legs."

Cuddy said the tendency to hunch over and make yourself small, protecting against outsiders, is an instinct that dates back to primates in the jungle and even a few rungs lower in the animal kingdom, Cuddy says.

By acting more powerful and pumping yourself up, people can learn to change she says.  She tells people to “audit your own body.”

“It’s not being fake,” said Sims Wyeth, of Sims Wyeth & Co in Montclair, N.J., a speech coach who has worked on the front lines with executives.  “It’s really you, but it’s an unfamiliar you that you start to understand.”

The process of “becoming assertive and confident” is a problem for both genders, especially in speaking in front of people, he said.

“I see it in a lot of men and women,” said Wyeth. “It doesn’t what you are like physically. Tall men sometimes feel awkward because they stand out.”

The transformative process that Cuddy talks about has been valuable for many women, he said. But men have their own issues to overcome, even if they are different ones.

Related: Why athletes strike the victory pose

“They are peacocks. It’s not about swagger. It’s about avoiding all affectation and showing calm, not anxiety. Your body posture is an important part of that.” 

Cuddy argued passionately that learning to be more confident can “significantly change the outcome of your life”       

Among hundreds of people who posted on the TED site in response, one man said he had been in a similar car accident and had recovery similar to Cuddy’s.

“Amy’s talk has been a Miracle delivered to me,” he said on the site.

You can view the entire TED talk below:

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