BEA 2015 | How to Be Your Boldest Self: A Conversation With Amy Cuddy and Julianne Moore

|by: Cat Michaels|

I first heard of social psychologist and Harvard professor Amy Cuddy on a TED Talk last spring, when I was running on empty with my writing. Her amazing insights into simple ways of changing body language to be at one’s best boosted my spirits and lifted me out of my rut.

When I learned Amy was continuing the conversation at this year’s Book Expo America (BEA) in New York with her BFF, actor/director Julianne Moore, I marked them as a must-see. Their session, PRESENCE: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, revealed how people can unleash their boldest selves to heighten confidence, influence others, and perform at peak.

Please join me in the conference hall in the Javits Center as I share highlights of their dialogue.

So, here I am at Book Expo America, one of the biggest gatherings of writers, publishers and industry experts. Even though I’m a little fish in this big pond of top contenders, I’m swimming strong. Can’t believe my good fortune at hearing Amy Cuddy in person — AND Academy Award-winning actress, Julianne Moore.

Julie Gribble and Cat Michaels

I arrive at the venue 30 minutes early, snagging a seat on the aisle and just a few rows from the stage. I wait and wonder if they’ll start on time.

Finally, I hear an entourage entering the hall to escort the two women to the podium. They pose together while scores of people surround them for a photo op. More waiting as the moderator introduces the two, who in my mind need no introduction.

The women are just as magnetic and beautiful in person as they are on video, each articulate and smiling at each other like long-time friends. I wasn’t sure how the format would go; however, Moore throws Cuddy questions, and the professor answers with wit and sparkle. It’s an easy back-and-forth that hooks me.

BEA Ted Talk Cuddy
Amy Cuddy delivering TED talk in 2012.


Their conversation spins around Cuddy’s study on non-verbal behaviors and how the mind-body connection teaches people to use this science to become self-assured in high-pressure moments.

What’s this body language and power posing all about, Moore wants to know. It’s about being your real, authentic self, Cuddy says. Not fakey. Body language isn’t political coaching. It’s the impression you make on yourself, not on others.

Moore shares a technique from an acting class, plastique, where students made shapes with their bodies until they felt in touch with that shape and created a physical connection with it. “That’s it!”  Cuddy glows, gesturing large with her hands and clearly excited about the actor’s insights. Gestures and body language came before words, and they are universal. For instance, studies show that three-dozen cultures raise their arms in a V when they succeed or celebrate. This is the basis of Cuddy’s famous power pose.

When you don’t feel good about yourself, Cuddy continues, you slouch in your chair. However, if you sit in an upright posture, your body sends the brain a message of well-being and power. When you want to feel power, you need to adopt a power pose and trick the brain by using that body language. Eventually, the power poses help people internalize that sense of well-being.

I begin to sit taller in my chair.

What brought you to these postures, Moore asks. Cuddy explains it was animal research into the Victory Pose by Dr. Jessica Tracy, who learned that dominant animals physically expand and spread out. (Think chest pounding or a spreading peacock tail.) Cuddy tells of another study that finds people who slouch over their mobile phones are perceived as being less powerful than those sitting upright and working in a desktop posture.

I will sit up straighter and spread out more when I write and facilitate. No slouching. I will trick my mind into thinking I am powerful, even when no one is around but ME! Because, according to Cuddy, I’m the most important person to impress.

Cuddy and Moore talk about being relaxed, trusting, and open. It’s not power or dominance over someone. It’s power to yourself in order to achieve being your personal best. Cuddy advocates practicing power poses and positive messaging for two minutes a day. As Cuddy coaches in her TED Talk, you make your presence big by practice: don’t fake it until you make it; fake it until you become it.

OK, so the next time I make marketing calls or pitch an author appearance, I’ll have a two-minute practice. Being tall and upright. Shaping a power pose. Know what? It feels great! Try it!

Amy Cuddy and Julianne Moore

Their 50-minute conversation flies by, with so many incredible ideas. I’m taking it all in, scribbling notes as fast as I can. I don’t want it to end. Finally, they conclude with these words of wisdom:

In body language, we mirror each other, except for power. Low power collapses in high-power presence. To deal with aggressive high power, don’t back up or overpower. Instead, disarm high-power by being its opposite. Remain relaxed and open, sending the message of trust. When faced with a warm, open presence, high power gives up.

WOW, I need to remember that. I usually overpower and confront instead of being calm and open.

We clap. More cameras click. Amy and Julianne are whisked off to their next appointment. I close my notes, stand straight, and leave for my next session. Cuddy’s book, Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, is launching 3 November. Where’s her signing line? I make a victory pose and head out into the crowds to find it.



Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk, Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are, is one of the most-downloaded TED Talks, with more than 21 million views. You can watch her Talk on YouTube HERE.

TED Talks is a daily video podcast of talks and performances from TED events, where the world’s leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes (or less).

Cat Michaels

Kid Lit author and blogger Cat Michaels has more than 20 years’ experience as an educator and writing coach. Currently, she is working on her third book in the Sweet T Tales series for early readers, where kids use imagination and problem-solving skills to write or draw the story ending.

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