An examination of the psychological and physiological mechanics that spark the precious, transitory sense of presence.
“Presence, as I mean it throughout these pages,” writes social psychologist Cuddy (Business Administration/Harvard Business School), “is the state of feeling connected with our own thoughts, values, abilities, and emotions, so that we can better connect with the thoughts, values, abilities, and emotions of others. That’s it.” That may be it, but it’s a tall order, since presence is an exquisite synchrony of the senses and the various elements of the self in harmony, as difficult to put into words as rapture or the flow state. It’s all about poise, emerging from a trust and belief in yourself, your values, and your feelings. Cuddy—whose 2012 TED talk about the significance of body language has been viewed more than 27 million times (second among the most-viewed TED talks)—seeks presence in the face of powerlessness before pressure, anxiety, confusion, and frustration. However, to describe this fleeting sense of command, the author has to break it down into its components, severing the threads that hold the feeling together. Cuddy is very sharp in her analysis of those parts: affirmation; body language; how to nudge yourself along via incremental changes; how to shut up and listen; the profound disharmony of post-traumatic stress, when synchrony is painful to even contemplate. But the author stumbles somewhat when putting the pieces back together in a working union. Honesty, sincerity, and authenticity are batted around in pursuit of realizing our values and traits, but these words are too easily open to self-deception to feel like genuine tools. Cuddy falls back too often on the unchallenged insights of “a widely recognized expert” as well as unhelpful diagnostic questions—e.g., “What three words best describe you as an individual?”
An uneven book studded with genuine insights that public speakers will find useful.