Book Rev #1771. Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. (2015). Amy Cuddy. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 344 pp. Price $28.00. ISBN: 978-0-316-25657-5
Review By: Brittany Erwin
University Academic Advising
College of Liberal Arts
Wright State University
Academic advising is complicated, ambiguous and—often—underappreciated work. This can leave even the most committed academic advisor questioning his or her professional worth. Yet, building collaborative partnerships is key to increasing visibility and respect for the academic advising profession at an institutional level. Relationships are also the foundation upon which academic advisors can propel students toward achieving academic success. How, then, to cultivate and project passion and competency to ensure buy-in from colleagues, faculty, and students alike? Though not specific to the advising profession, Amy Cuddy’s (2017) Presence: Bringing your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenge—a self-help-like book rooted in Cuddy’s sociological research—broadly tackles this question. The first half of the book offers multiple strategies and tips on bringing your full self to your work by believing in the power of your own story and authenticity. In the second half, Cuddy encourages readers to translate that intrinsic worth into physically and quite literally taking up space with our bodies and within our environments to demonstrate our value to others.
Frankly, readers could skip (or skim) the first half of the book, which is much too long and offers clichéd and obvious advice about internal worth, like “Presence…is the state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings and values” (Cuddy, 2017, p. 24). The book feels bloated, in large part, because it is an expanded version of Cuddy’s popular 2012 TED talk. “Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are.” This talk emphasized Cuddy’s research on the positive, measurable effects of “power posing.” For those unfamiliar with the concept, Cuddy (2017) explains in the book, “When we feel powerful, we make ourselves bigger” and posits that enacting these “bigger” poses imbues us with feelings of power which others respond to (p. 147). The book shines in Chapters 8 and 9, which offer practical tips and the underlying research for enacting this type of external presence. Cuddy cites her own collaborative research from 2010 with Dana Carney, and Andy Yap as proof of the positive physiological and emotional impact of power posing. Among her many findings and claims stemming from this research, these are some of the claimed effects of power posing: higher confidence, lower anxiety, cognitive persistence, groundedness, and greater abstract thinking (pp. 193-241). Helpful illustrations of such poses are included on pages 200-201 and bulleted lists for implementation are featured in the blissfully brief Chapter 9.
Though Cuddy cites numerous others’ research from a variety of fields to lend credence to her claims, readers should be aware that Cuddy’s own research methods and results have faced increasing scrutiny as reported by The New York Times Magazine’s (2017) article, “When the Revolution Came for Amy Cuddy,” by Susan Dominus. The article contends that her experiments, when reproduced, have not achieved the same physiological results from power posing she and her colleagues did. Cuddy stands by her work and posits that even if hormonal surges are not detected, the sense of one’s own power remains. Dominus (2017) writes, “Cuddy is still fighting for power posing. The research, she says, still shows its effects upon feelings of power” (p.55). Due to this ongoing controversy, the book’s unnecessary length, and its lack of specificity to the advising profession, I cannot recommend it in its entirety. That said, Chapters 8 and 9 are worthwhile and practical. Whether the effects are measurably real or merely a placebo effect, I have found them empowering and useful in my work with a variety of constituents across my institution.
Dominus, S. (2017, October 22). When the Revolution Came for Amy Cuddy. The New York Times Magazine, 28-33, 50-55.