Competence Cues

In primates, when one has to take over for an alpha, within a few days something remarkable happens.  The “new” alpha’s testosterone increases and cortisol decreases.  In the animal kingdom as well as in humans, our mind follows the body and the body follows the mind.  When we feel dominant, we expand, we stretch out and we open up our body. 

Even congenitally blind people make specific body movements when they experience a triumph or a loss.  Universally, when you feel pride (like winning a race) you throw your hands up in the air.  Even though blind people have never seen people do this, they exhibit the same movement.  Our brains subconsciously pick up some interesting competence cues.  Here are a few ways to break through the unconscious System 1 thinking when you interact with students.

The Power of Hands

The first place people look when they first interact with someone is actually the hands.   This may sound surprising, but it makes sense from an evolutionary perspective.  People looked at each other’s hands first to make sure that they weren’t carrying a weapon.  This instinct has been evolutionarily wired into our brain. 

In the TED Talk study we discussed earlier, results indicated that “The bottom TED talks had an average of 124,000 views and used an average of 272 hand gestures during the 18 minute talk. The top TED talks had an average of 7,360,000 views and used an average of 465 hand gestures--that's almost double! By the way, Temple Grandin, Simon Sinek and Jane McGonigal topped the hand gesture charts with over 600 hand gestures in just 18 minutes.”   The following should rules should be followed to take advantage of hand usage:

•    The hands need to be visible. Jurors in trials have actually rated criminals with their hands under their desks as more sneaky and distrustful.  If our hands are not visible, unconsciously, the brain is unsettled.  Our amygdala is activated until we can see their hands.  We may not know that this is happening, but as we have learned, this is true with a lot of our interactions.

•    Keep them above the desk. If you use a lectern, make sure that your hands are visible.  Don’t allow your hands to drift underneath the lectern.
o    Avoid putting your hands in your pockets.
o    Avoid crossing your arms when speaking.
o    Avoid sitting on your hands.

Don’t self soothe with your hands. Self-soothing includes adjusting tie, hair, touching your face, or other parts of your body.  We do this when we are nervous.  Self-soothing reminds us of when we were babies and our parents cared for us and soothed us in this manner.

Use hand expressions to emphasize your points. Speaking with your hands is very powerful.  Motion attracts attention.

Use the Ball of Power
You have seen many speakers use this technique without you noticing.  Imagine holding a volleyball with  both of your hands between your hips and waist.  Hold it with fingertips and curl as if there is a sphere there.  From there you can do many things :
1.    The ball can grow bigger or smaller depending on the emphasis you wan to portray
2.    Bring ball up and down
3.    You can give ball to the audience
4.    Can give it a little shake

Check out your posture. 

Have you ever seen a general of an army slouch?  Probably not.  Not to say that you should be anything like Patton, but a strong posture will increase your competence immediately.

(Up next Competence Cues Part 2)


  (1) Edwards, V. (2015, March 13). 5 Secrets of a Successful TED Talk. Retrieved April 4, 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vanessa-van-edwards/5-secrets-of-a-successful_b_6887472.html

(2) Edwards, V. V. (Director) (2014, January 1). Intro to Client Relations. Body Language for Entrepreneurs. Lecture conducted from Udemy https://www.udemy.com/body-language-for-entrepreneurs/#/, Online

(3)  Neffinger, J., & Kohut, M. (2014). Compelling people: The hidden qualities that make us influential. P.93. Plume.

(4)  Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are. (2012, June 1). Retrieved February 26, 2015, from http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are?language=en