Public Speaking

Jane Kim Shares On Toastmasters, Power and Powerlessness

“I’m happy because I sing.” — William James

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

So many aspects of our lives have been altered by the pandemic in 2020, but it hasn’t stopped our lives altogether. It’s just been a matter of learning how to make adjustments. One such adjustment has been the advent of Zoom.

Zoom videoconferencing has made it easy for companies to transition to the cocooning now common for the past seven months. For our local Toastmasters club it’s produced some special perks because a few of our members have attended meetings in other parts of the country and overseas. Though we miss the face-to-face interaction, we’re still finding value in the virtual connecting that we do.

At our Duluth Toastmasters meeting Thursday Jane Kim gave an interesting speech about how we carry ourselves and its impact on both ourselves and others. I’ve read many articles about body language over the years, but Jane’s talk added an insight I’d not realized before. My body language not only has an impact on others, it also has an impact on me as well.

I asked for permission to share her talk here and a little about herself. Her speech follows this brief interview.

How did you become interested in being part of Toastmasters?

Jane Kim: I became interested in Toastmasters after some folks from my inner circle encouraged me to check it out. I was working for two public access broadcast television stations in the Twin Cities when I joined one of the local clubs there and, while I was exposed to much journalism and communication while working at these two jobs, I still had this desire to polish up my skills. I joined the Plymouth club in the Twin Cities in November of 2019 and when I learned that I got hired at FOX 21 Local News in Duluth, I decided to jump right into the Duluth Toastmasters Club, mainly to make great connections in the Northland and to keep working on my skills.

Jane Kim.

What have you learned through your involvement with Toastmasters?

JK: I’ve learned that no one is a perfect speaker, which is a good thing! Everyone has something that they can improve on. I’ve learned for myself that I tend to speak with a lot of um’s and and’s, and I tend to rush when I speak (I consider that to be a nervous tic of mine). I would say the Ah Counter’s role and the variety of Evaluators for my speeches have been key to my growth in these areas. On the other hand, I’ve learned that in a supportive and encouraging environment like the one at Duluth Toastmasters, you can reach the goals that you set for yourself. For instance, during the most recent speech that I gave, I was able to use gestures naturally and effectively, even during a Zoom call! I’m learning a whole lot through my participation in Toastmasters, and I am ever so grateful for the opportunity to take part in such a sweet group!

Let Your Light Shine

Presence. What allows for someone to have a great or not so great presence?

It was at a garage sale where I stumbled upon a book that would shift my perspective about body language and how your body contributes to changing your mind. We were covering rummage sales and the summer trends of selling one’s old treasures for a story at work, and I think it was the second or third garage sale we went to where I found the book Presence by Amy Cuddy for a measly two dollars.

I wasn’t too familiar with Cuddy’s work — I watched part of her TED talk maybe a few years ago, but it wasn’t until I actually read her book Presence that my understanding of the effectiveness of body language changed.

There’s a part in her book where talks about feeling powerful and powerless. It’s actually interwoven throughout the entirety of the pages in the book, but Cuddy basically makes the claim that feeling powerful and powerless are two types of dispositions one can have. One can feel powerful, feeling decisive and confident and ready to take on the world, or one can feel powerless, indecisive, insecure, defeated.

As she mentions in her book, power makes us approach while powerlessness makes us avoid. When one feels powerless, not only do our minds have thoughts of insecurity and defeat, we also quote constrict our posture, tightening, wrapping, and making ourselves smaller (limbs touching torso, chest caved inward, shoulders slumped, head lowered, posture slouched). We also use restricted gestures and speech by hesitating, rushing, using a small vocal range, a high pitch and so on.

She goes on to say that when we are feeling powerless, in virtually every way that we can, we make ourselves smaller. Rather than take up more space, we take up less — through our postures, our gestures, our walking and even our voices. We shorten, slouch, collapse, and we restrict our body language end quote.

In response to this, one can only see that those watching us will find us also powerless. Did you know that if you stand in a powerful pose — something like this, this or this — will actually change the hormones in your brain? Yes, the body indeed can change the mind. According to Presence, the body and the brain are a part of a single integrated complicated beautiful system.

“I don’t sing because I’m happy,” said William James, “I’m happy because I sing.” Let that sink in for a minute. It’s not because of the emotional cues of the song that makes one happy but you’re happy because you participate in the act of singing.

According to studies sponsored by Oregon and Harvard universities, doing power poses leads to a high level of testosterone and low levels of cortisol. Testosterone is connected with dominance while cortisol is a stress hormone. According to an article by weekplan.net, people holding power poses tended to be more confident, authoritative, assertive and relaxed while those in low power role poses had low levels of testosterone and high levels of cortisol.

When we decide to do something like asking someone out on a date or raising your hand in class or volunteering, we consider the possible benefits or the possible costs of the action. Benefits being a new relationship or being able to say what we think and costs being looking foolish in the eyes of others. If we are constantly focusing on the costs of the action, then we miss out on the decisions that we can make and opportunities to feel powerful in the moment.

I don’t mean to keep quoting this book, but presence is the way you carry yourself and is a source of personal power. It’s the key that allows you to unlock yourself, she says, your abilities, your creativity, your courage and even your generosity.

I hope that both you and I learn the secret to finding our presence.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon https://tinyurl.com/y3l9sfpj

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