Social psychologist Amy Cuddy gives a keynote presentation about the power of personal presence during the CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C., Tuesday. (Photo by

The power of personal presence

GAC keynoter Amy Cuddy offers advice on being your ‘authentic self.’

March 1, 2022

Every business professional faces difficult situations they approach with dread, execute with anxiety, or leave with a sense of regret. 

These situations often carry high stakes. Our performance in them affects our future, and we are socially judged by their outcomes.

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy offered 2022 CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference participants advice on how leaders can bring a better presence to these situations during a keynote presentation in Washington, D.C., Tuesday.

“What stops us from being present is that we lack power,” Cuddy says. 

The power she refers to is personal power rather than social power. Social power is generally considered the ability to control the behavior and actions of other people, according to Cuddy.  

Personal power is the ability to control one’s own states and behaviors. 

“It is the ability to access your own internal resources, your own knowledge skills and personality, and it is infinite,” Cuddy says. “It has nothing to do with the personal power that someone else has.

“In fact, I would argue that if you feel personally powerful it would engage others around you to feel personally powerful,” she continues.

‘Your authentic best self is who you are in the moments when you feel the best.’
Amy Cuddy

She adds when we feel powerless, we have the exact opposite reaction. “We want to shut down. We want to fight, flee, or faint.”

Feeling powerful activates what Cuddy calls the "approach system," which sees opportunities rather than threats, allies instead of enemies, and a secure environment where a defensive posture once felt appropriate.

Personal power enables us to bring presence to these once-challenging situations. “Presence is being attuned and able to express your authentic best self,” Cuddy says.

Being that authentic self doesn’t mean “unfiltered,” saying whatever is in one’s mind, as is commonly accepted today.  

“Your authentic best self is who you are in the moments when you feel the best,” Cuddy says. “Think back over the last few years and think about your best moments. What are your favorite memories? Who were they with?

"I bet you were feeling seen and loved and connected, and you were feeling those things for the people you were with. Why would you not bring that version of yourself to these situations? That’s presence.”

Presence also begets presence, Cuddy says. “Think about somebody who’s always looking at their phone; you’re just not able to be present with them."

Presence creates an environment of trust, according to Cuddy.

“Trust is the conduit of influence,” she says. “It’s the medium through which ideas travel. When we feel personally powerful, we not only show up, but we show up as both strong and generous, as both confident and kind. Being powerful is about being both trustworthy and generous.”

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