Power Posing Lessons from Miss USA

Written by Steve Piacente

June 8, 2016

Suppose you didn’t know who won the Miss USA pageant last weekend.

And suppose you were asked to pick the winner and runner-up from a photo of the five finalists shot moments before the grand announcement. Odds are you’d select the two who struck the “Wonder Woman” pose.

All five seem confident. Each boasts a radiant smile. So much poise in one lineup! But those two carving out space with their elbows – a description you might find in a story about the NBA finals – look as though they’ve already had a peek inside the envelope.

And indeed they were the winners. Miss District of Columbia Deshauna Barber walked off with the crown, while Miss Hawaii Chelsea Hardin was runner-up. Second runner-up Miss Georgia held her hands by her sides, while Miss Alabama and Miss California opted for a “red carpet” pose, with right hand on hip and left arm straight down.

Now, no one is suggesting Barber and Hardin finished one-two because they assumed the pose immortalized by Wonder Woman Lynda Carter and highlighted in behavioral psychologist Amy Cuddy’s TED talk. Barber is a U.S. Army logistics commander and has served in the military since age 17. There is nothing artificial about her power pose.

Still, the photo reinforces what we all know, that our bodies speak volumes even when our mouths are shut. Pageants aside, everyone who appears before an audience – even if the audience is one person or a small staff meeting – should remember to:

  • Make sure your body language sends upbeat, positive signals. Avoid gestures that suggest nervousness, insecurity or defensiveness, like crossing your arms, locking your fingers or clutching the lectern.
  • Be mindful of your face. All of us were taught not to judge a book by its cover, but that’s exactly what we do. Research shows our faces can express emotion sooner than people verbalize or even realize their feelings. A pleasant expression will serve you well.
  • Lighten up and toss in a smile. Smiling is associated with everything from confidence to lower blood pressure. It makes you appear more likeable and more competent. Can you overdo it? Sure, so save it for the right moments, like openings and good news.
  • Make eye contact with members of your audience. Notice the five finalists. They aren’t looking down, away or at some imaginary spot in the distance. They’re looking at their audience. Which suggests confidence, trustworthiness and the very real possibility that any of them might be the next Miss USA.

Need more evidence? Think of the opposite of the Miss USA lineup – the police lineup, where the suspected and accused use their bodies any way they can to shrink back and draw as little attention as possible.

One more note about power posing. Pageant contestants, actors and comedians can get away with it in public. The rest of us should do it in private, as a means to shoo the butterflies and get positive energy flowing.

Walk into your performance review like Wonder Woman and you’ll see what I mean.

Has your body ever sent signals that got you in trouble? Please share a story.


Photo credit: usmagazine.com