We can use a nocebo to give you a headache, a backache, or even a chronic degenerative disease.
(In Medicine, a nocebo is an inert substance or treatment that creates harmful effects and a placebo is a similarly neutral prescription that causes improvement. Even if the patient knows it’s a placebo, in many cases.)*
“But you don’t remove the nocebo with medical tests. You remove it with a better story, with a situation that makes us feel powerful and in control, with a setting and a narrative that gives us agency and dignity.”
One problem with noceboes and placebos is determining whether they are actually “inert.” For example, it should be obvious that assuming a “Power Position” for two minutes couldn’t have any real effect on subsequent performance in a job interview. Amy Cuddy** showed that it can definitely increase a job applicant’s success in a stress interview, though, so what are we to think?
Once we’ve decided “it’s all in their heads,” we can follow up to learn that Power vs. Inhibited posturing affects animals as well – oops. Then we learn that the two minute posturing markedly affects the relative concentration of two hormones in apes, gorillas – and humans – as well as changing later behaviors. Oops again.
There’s a lot we don’t understand about confidence, fear and sense of control in public speaking. But, we can experiment to see what works best for us. And what better lab can we find than a Toastmasters meeting?
“Power Posturing“ isn’t a concrete, specific solution – it’s neither a measurable treatment nor undeniably a placebo. Posturing might even turn out to be a nocebo for us in some situations, such as speech contests or first dates.
As Seth Godin says*** (speaking generally, not about Toastmasters):
“In a world where nuance, uncertainty and shades of grey are ever more common, becoming comfortable with ambiguity is one of the most valuable skills you can acquire . . . Life is an essay, not a Scantron machine. #2 pencils are overrated.”
Try “Power Posturing” before a speech; if it works for you, use it more. If it doesn’t, try other techniques. One of our members is a Yoga instructor – she may be able to prescribe a position, posture, or perspective that will work for you.
There is no universally correct prescription – for speeches, for headaches, or even for job success.