My niece called me for advice before her interview at Harvard Business School (HBS) as part of the MBA application process.

We were talking through some of the likely questions and concerns they might have, and which points she wants to make – that is, the content.

Then I remembered the following three experiences and realized that what we were really talking about was being able to show up as yourself when it really counts (i.e., under stress):

My inferiority complex

My own experience at HBS where I pored over each case study the night before to figure out the “right” answer, only to get so nervous in class that I psyched myself out and often couldn’t even bring myself to raise my hand.  In a program where participation is 50% of the grade, I struggled to properly “show up”.

Worse yet, as I dithered over whether to raise my hand and make a point, someone else would inevitably say it, which then started a cycle of beating myself up over missing my big opportunity to speak up.

Knowing me today, my niece couldn’t believe it.  But I still extracted her promise that she wouldn’t give away her mojo like that, not ever.


I had the substance, but that was useless without a way to shake off my inferiority complex so I could share my knowledge.

The tiny ball exercise

What I learned from the actors at RADA (the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) in London when I attended an “impact and presence” seminar for business people (which was coincidentally hosted by HBS!).  They took us through a series of techniques actors use to get in character.

One of these involved having two people (me and Kim) leave the room, do one of two physical movements “offstage”, and then walk back in.  The rest of the group would then be asked whether they could tell which volunteer did the “shrink into a tiny ball” versus the “expand out from a tiny ball” exercise.

“Backstage”, Kim did the shrinking movement and I did the expanding one.  After a few minutes of continuously practicing the movements, we went back into the room.

It took less than a second for the room to identify who had done what:  Kim was pretty much shuffling while I couldn’t help but practically burst into the room.


What you do before you enter a room can have a dramatic effect on your performance, so be mindful of your “pre-meeting routine”

Power Posing

At my last HBS class reunion, I heard Professor Amy Cuddy speak about her research on body language.  Specifically, adopting the body language she calls “power posing” has a positive link to your mental state and therefore to the outcomes you experience.  Her five examples of “power posing” were:

  • The Superwoman stance
  • Standing at a table with feet apart and hands on tabletop
  • Leaning back in a chair with your hands behind your head
  • Leaning back in a chair with your feet up on a desk, and
  • Sitting with your arms spread out on the back of the next chair

Amy Cuddy's TEDTalk concludes that our body language shapes how we think and feel about ourselves, not just how others think and feel about us.  And we owe it to ourselves to use the body language that will make us feel at our best, our most powerful, when we are about to go into a stress situation like an interview.

The beauty is that it takes just two minutes – yes, two minutes! – to power pose before your next big stressful situation and “fake it till you become it”, not just till you make it.  The more you practice it, the more you internalize the behavior and adopt it as your own.  This has lasting benefits!


Body language is not just for the benefit of others, it’s also important for you.  Take 2 minutes to “power pose” because it can change your life for the better.

So back to my niece…

In the end, my message was to make sure she shows up in a way that conveys the positive energy and different perspective that she would bring through her non-traditional background (as far as business school applicants go).

As a believer in the “rule of 3”, this is what I told her:

  1. Wear something that makes you feel confident and strong.
  2. Have a pre-meeting routine before you go in – “power pose”, square your shoulders, take a few deep breaths, stretch, whatever makes you feel centered and positive.
  3. Walk in and be yourself.

And if anyone from HBS Admissions is reading this, I know that my niece would be a great addition to the school!

What pre-interview or pre-meeting routines have you used that were great?  Please share them in the comments section below.