Power Cues: The Subtle Science of Leading Groups, Persuading Others, and Maximizing Your Personal Impact

Power Cues: The Subtle Science of Leading Groups, Persuading Others, and Maximizing Your Personal Impact

Nick Morgan

ISBN 978-1422193501
Format Hardcover
Publisher Harvard Business Review Press
Published 2014-05-13

Take control of your communications — before someone else does

What if someone told you that your behavior was controlled by a powerful, invisible force? Most of us would be skeptical of such a claim—but it’s largely true. Our brains are constantly transmitting and receiving signals of which we are unaware. Studies show that these constant inputs drive the great majority of our decisions about what to do next—and we become conscious of the decisions only after we start acting on them. Many may find that disturbing. But the implications for leadership are profound.

In this provocative yet practical book, renowned speaking coach and communication expert Nick Morgan highlights recent research that shows how humans are programmed to respond to the nonverbal cues of others—subtle gestures, sounds, and signals—that elicit emotion. He then provides a clear, useful framework of seven “power cues” that will be essential for any leader in business, the public sector, or almost any context. You’ll learn crucial skills, from measuring nonverbal signs of confidence, to the art and practice of gestures and vocal tones, to figuring out what your gut is really telling you.

This concise and engaging guide will help leaders and aspiring leaders of all stripes to connect powerfully, communicate more effectively, and command influence.

nick_morganAbout the Author: Nick Morgan, founder of Public Words Inc., is one of America’s top communication and speech coaches. He is a former Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where he was affiliated with the school’s Center for Public Leadership. From 1998 to 2003, he served as editor of the Harvard Management Communication Letter. He is the author of the acclaimed book, Working the Room, reprinted in paperback as Give Your Speech, Change the World.

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[Public Speaking Quotation] … for Sweet Benjamin


“Imprison it”…? Hmm. My mother used to say to me “Put your words on the palm of your hand and look at them before you speak.” I liked that. Sweet Benjamin needs to guard against speaking without thinking.

If he’s going to be a speaker, he needs to consider his message and his audience before he speaks.

But “imprison” …? What do you think?

[Quick Public Speaking Tip] Oops, how embarrassing, you’re boring your audience

It’s a moment that nervous speakers dread – to realise that most of your audience is bored.

They’re glassy eyed, maybe even falling asleep, chatting or texting.


Worse still and more embarrassing is the presenter who becomes frantic, attempting to regain attention.

It has happened to me twice.

The first was early in my speaking career when I became aware of a lady in the front row, slumped, with her head back and her mouth open, quietly snoring. The second was later, during a presentation, and I watched with increasing concern as one after another, the people in the audience got that glazed look. They were too polite to nod off or chat, but the evidence was there. I had been asked to present on the subject and had failed to research that audience and their needs, which, it turned out, were on a different level altogether.

I well remember the panicky feeling. Fortunately I managed to turn the situations around. As the snores gently increased, we moved quickly into small group discussion so that the people around the sleepy-head moved and woke her up to participate. And in the presentation, as it became increasingly obvious that the material I had prepared was just not appropriate, I was able to drop the script, and work with the audience to find out their needs and present something they needed and got quite excited about. But I will never forget that initial feeling of losing attention.

Avoid the whole situation if you can by researching your audience and make sure you address the What’s In It For Me factor.

Avoid the whole situation if you can by embedding signposts so that your audience can follow the road of your presentation with you.

Avoid the whole situation if you can by ensuring you have variety wired into your presentation, and have something up your sleeve that you can move into if necessary.

Introduce a new visual.

Involve the audience.

Ask questions.

Change your stance, body language or walking pattern.


Stand still.

Change from a complex approach to the subject and create pure simplicity. Change direction entirely.

Ask for directions to take.

Whatever you use, it will become a smooth, professional piece of your presentation instead of a situation that embarrasses you and your audience.

[Inspiration] Seek not to change the world …

“Seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world. What you see reflects your thinking. And your thinking but reflects your choice of what you want to see.”

From A Course In Miracles

There’s more to humour than just making people laugh


Everyone admires a good comedian.

They groan loudly at someone they think is a bad comedian.

Most speakers either harness humour or wish they could.

We love to laugh and we love the sound of laughter.

But there’s more to it than that.

Behind these thoughts and opinions about humour and laughter, is the understanding that we like people who make us smile.

We are more likely to love people who make us laugh.

What does this mean to you as a speaker – having an audience like you?

What if you have a heavy message – something that has to be said, but has the potential to be weighty? Humour will lighten it.

What happens if you are presenting an idea that is new to the audience, an idea that maybe they find objectionable, if you have to persuade them? Introduce humour, have the audience liking that experience and maybe liking you, relaxing a little, and you have made it a little easier to bring in that new idea.

Behind this phenomenon of liking someone who makes us smile is also then, the ability for us as speakers, to reinforce our credibility. It allows us to answer the questions usually present in every audience member’s mind – who is this person? Why should I listen? Use humour to acknowledge those questions … and answer them. Create a smile and you have opened a door to friendship. Share some self-effacing humour and you introduce authenticity, and the possibility that you are maybe, just maybe, not going to be a boring presenter.

You have grabbed attention and engagement.

When it comes to engaging a specific audience, there are many techniques you can use. Refer to the location if you can. Refer to the local sports team, a local iconic building, or to a national characteristic that they are happy to laugh at. Research or meet the audience. Is there someone whom everyone knows, who is in the audience and who would not mind having an idiosyncrasy used humorously?

Not only does this create engagement between us as speakers and our audiences, it also creates a bond between members of the audience. They are in this experience together. And if there is one thing successful speakers do every time they speak, it is to create an experience. This is all the more powerful if it is felt to be shared.

And this makes event organisers heave a sigh of relief. “That speaker was worth hiring, did you hear the audience laughing?”

Event organisers will remember you (and re-hire you).

That audience will remember as well. Humour makes your points more memorable. They will remember and repeat – you and your message.

Finally, a little personal support, (and as speakers we need that at times!).. humour allows us to deal with disasters. Create a laugh to share with your audience about something that has gone wrong, and any anxiety and awkwardness is dissipated.

So while it may seem that a speaker has just thrown a joke or two into their speech to lighten things up, in reality, what they were doing was guaranteeing their success – creating an experience, creating engagement, easing the process of persuasion and ensuring future gigs. Not bad for a joke or two, and certainly worth the investment.