One of the most common questions I am asked is ‘how can I feel less nervous when meeting or asking for gifts from people who are older, wealthier and more powerful than myself?’.
In my new book, The Fundraiser Who Wanted More, this is one of the questions that Claire asks Mark, her mentor. In this excerpt from the book, he shows Claire some surprisingly simple body language tricks she can apply. He then describes the inspiring research of Amy Cuddy of Stanford Business School, as revealed in the fabulous TED Talk, Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are. Here is what Mark says next:
‘Here’s an interesting conundrum. Can the way you use your body, and even your face, influence how you feel? Everyone knows that the reverse can be true, that is our state of mind, such as happy or worried, influences our facial expressions, causing us to smile or frown … but Dr Cuddy wanted to find out whether the reverse is also true.
‘So she arranged for two randomly chosen groups of people to perform what she calls “high-power poses” or “low-power poses” for only two minutes, and she took measurements before and after of two hormones in particular, testosterone and cortisol levels, through saliva samples.
‘This is the fascinating bit for me. You’ve probably heard of testosterone, and it’s usually associated with aggression and alpha males. But the fact is, testosterone is important in both men and women as the hormone most closely linked with feelings of inner power and confidence. And the other one, cortisol, is linked to feelings of stress. The more stressed you are, the more cortisol there will be in your system.
‘What Dr Cuddy found was an explanation for how a change in the body changes how we feel and behave: in the people who had assumed “high-power poses”, for example, standing up very big and tall with your shoulders back, testosterone increased on average by about 20%, and it decreased in the people who had been asked to do the “low-power poses” – for instance, making themselves more hunched and small and downward facing, by 10%. Not only that, but levels of the stress hormone, cortisol went down in the high-power pose group by about 25%. Like you just now, neither group had received any good or bad news or been asked to think confident or unconfident thoughts.’
‘This is extraordinary’ said Claire. ‘Are you saying that even if I don’t feel confident or whatever, I should act that way anyway, and it will help me actually feel more confident with important donors?’
‘Yes, that’s exactly how I interpret Dr Cuddy’s research, and applying this technique has already helped countless fundraisers who I’ve trained to use it.
‘But let’s be clear, I’m not saying it as some people would interpret that instruction, act confident in order to trick the donor into thinking you’re confident. I’m saying that when you act that way with your body, the physiology becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. It changes the way you feel, and so the way you instinctively act.’
‘But you talk about power poses. You’re not saying that I should go strutting into a meeting with my nose in the air?
‘Quite right, I’m not saying you should act arrogantly. I am saying it’s essential that you don’t assume the physiology of a low-status person, even if society might presume you should when talking to a powerful Chief Executive. Instead, practise doing the body language of someone who is also important.
‘Now, if all you did was that, I agree, it would come across as cold or arrogant, but when you add it together with the generous focus that I helped you to apply earlier, that is “How can I help this person really enjoy and get value from this meeting?” then your whole energy warms up, so that the signal you send is not arrogance, but charisma, in the best sense of that word.’
Based on Dr Cuddy’s insights, here is a habit which I encourage participants on my Major Gifts Mastery Programme to start practicing. You’ll find it surprisingly powerful, especially if you have watched Dr Cuddy’s Body Language Shapes Who You Are. When could you test it to see for yourself?
- On the way to important meetings, deliberately walk as tall as possible. Breathe deeply and smile broadly. (If you’re on your own, you could even strut like a rock star. And if this sounds too scary a leap from anything you’ve done before, practice it first before you conduct less important or internal meetings so that you can test whether it helps you when the stakes are low).
- My new book, The Fundraiser Who Wanted More is available from Amazon. In the book, I reveal the five laws of persuasion that transform your fundraising results.