Do you know how criminals pick their victims from the crowd?

In a 1981 study, researchers Betty Grayson and Morris Stein, tried to determine the selection criteria applied by criminals when selecting their victims. They made a black and white video tape of 60 pedestrians on a busy New York City sidewalk.

Next they showed the tape to convicted criminals who were doing time for violent offenses. The goal? Which people would be selected? Who is THE victim? You may be surprised by two findings:

  1. Clearly, the selection was not based on race, gender, age – some small women were omitted, while some big guys were picked
  2. There was phenomenal consistency in choice, among inmates

Grays and Stein realized that the criminals were assessing the ease with which they could overpower the targets based on several nonverbal signals. Body language. Things like overall posture, gestures, pace of walking, length of stride, and awareness of environment. Neither criminals nor victims were consciously aware of these cues.

How does the victim look like

In the study:

  • Victims dragged, shuffled or lifted their feet unnaturally as they walked.
  • Their movement lacked a sense of deliberateness or purpose.
  • They lacked “wholeness” in their body movement – they swung their arms as if they were detached and independent from the rest of their body.
  • Another indicator was connected to a slumped posture which reveals weakness or submissiveness.
  • Also the eyes. A downward gaze implied preoccupation and being unaware of the surroundings. Plus, someone who is reluctant to establish eye contact can be seen as submissive.

You surely heard of the classic causality dilemma: “which came first, the chicken or the egg?”

Now, think about that potential victim. How a person ended up being picked by criminals in the study? Was it that the person really perceived herself as a victim and the body language simply displayed that. Or maybe it’s BECAUSE of their body language that they acquired a victim mindset?

Your body has the ability to trick your mind into feeling more powerful.

Most people would say it’s the first. Our body language can show how we feel at a given time. We are wired to pick on signals from others, allowing us to navigate through social situations (or in some cases, to mug someone).

Interestingly, the reverse might be true as well.

How Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

In her 2012 TED talk, social psychologist Amy Cuddy shared an easy way that anyone can change not only others’ perceptions of them, but the way they feel about themselves. Cuddy’s research shows that “trying out” body language associated with dominance, for as short as 2 minutes can be enough to create a 20% increase in testosterone (dominance hormone) and 25% decrease in cortisol (stress hormone). This means your body has the ability to trick your mind into feeling more powerful. The goal is to fake it until you become it, because if you make yourself feel more powerful, with time, you actually will.

I’ll leave it to you to guess which poses are high, and which are low-power. It’s built into your DNA to decode this:


Wow, right? So how do we actually use all this when we ourselves have to present, speak or do anything in front of others that requires confidence and favorable perception?

How to nail your next presentation

You don’t want to be a victim. Especially not if you are being watched and evaluated by others when communicating an important idea. Take these easy and actionable steps to feel, and be seen as, more confident. When can you apply it?

During your presentation

As a bare minimum take-away, make sure to have a good posture when speaking. Stand with your legs, shoulder-width apart. Avoid rocking from left to right, or the “cha-cha-cha” dance. Gesture sparingly and intentionally. Provide generous eye-contact to the audience. Convey leadership with your whole body.

Before your presentation

Few minutes before your speech, find a solitary place, preferably with a mirror. Yes, usually that’s the toilet. Spend those few minutes power-posing. Stand tall, put your hands to your waist, to appear bigger. Smile to yourself in the mirror. Feel the confidence and visualize how everyone feels it as you speak. Walk out and immediately go “on stage”.


Once you realize the power your own body language has on you, you really should take everyday action on it. I’m sure you heard that you can “create yourself” or “be whoever you want to be”. Practice confident poses until it becomes your second nature. Then one day you find yourself not needing to fake anymore. You will have confidence.

It all starts in your head. Positive self-attitude is key in delivering clear, effective and, most importantly, confident presentations in front of others. With time, you can make yourself confident. It’s not magic. It’s science. Pump up your testosterone.

Don’t be the victim. You were not meant to be!

When is the next time you will try power-posing?

Leave a comment now.

Wojciech is a trainer, teacher and life-long learner on the topic of effective communication. He believes that speaking clearly, effectively and with confidence is essential to our success and taking advantage of all life’s opportunities. READ MORE
  • Mateusz Waskań

    That’s very interesting subject. Gotta keep an eye on how I pose on daily basis and hopefully fix it.
    Thanks for sharing the knowledge!

    • Wojciech Mendyka

      Hi Mateusz. Thanks for reading and sharing your take away. Noticing how your body language affects your self-perception (and reverse!) can really be a revelation. The whole game of personal confidence is mostly mental. If you think you are confident, then you are. And if others see you as confident then… guess what – you are. Perception is power.