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How to Act Like the Most Powerful Girl in the Room

Steepling yes. Stacking no. And other non-verbal cues that anyone can master.

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What's the most important part of "faking it"? Confidence. So next time you walk into a room feeling very Hannah Horvath when you really, really need to channel your inner Beyoncé, stop focusing on what to say to seem confident and think, instead, about what to do. Armed with these simple body language tweaks, culled from ex-FBI "non-verbal communication" expert Joe Navarro, you'll speak volumes without even saying a word. And the best part? Like a swiping on a punchy lipstick or slipping into a killer pair of heels, they'll help you project a stronger image. Your friends, non-friends, co-workers, etc. will never know what hit them.

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Sure, the "regal" pose (arms behind your back, one hand holding the other wrist) won't work when you're holding a drink or carrying lots of stuff, but it's worth trying when you're empty-handed. While it's as comfortable and easy as crossing your arms in front of you, it reads so much more powerful. "It signals that you're special," Navarro says of the stance, so it's a good position to adopt when you want someone to walk away thinking, 'Hmm, she seems to really have her act together'...no matter what you said about that tapeworm.

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Not only does the regal position look authoritative in itself, it also has the added benefit of keeping you from sliding into distracting, nervous arm movements—body touching, toying with jewelry, fidgeting—that work to your detriment when you're trying to appear relaxed and in control.

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We all know to sit up straight, speak clearly, and make solid eye contact in important meetings and interviews, but when we're thinking about all that, we might forget what to do with our hands—which would be a big mistake. Something as easy as the "steeple" (hands out in front in a triangle formation, with the fingertips touching) is "what really emanates the perception of confidence," says Navarro. It doesn't matter if you do it while standing or sitting, Navarro adds; it's powerful either way. He cites German chancellor Angela Merkel, who might be the most powerful woman in Europe, as a frequent steeple-r (and that can't be all coincidence, right?).

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Don't: Vertically Stack Your Stuff At a Meeting

Got a meeting at the conference table with a bunch of your superiors? Resist the urge to be polite by confining your notebook, water, iPhone, etc to the smallest possible space. Instead, spread out (within reason). "We broaden our territory when we're confident," says Navarro, suggesting that to create the illusion of confidence, "put your notepad on the right with your folder neatly next to it, instead of everything piled on top."

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Don't: Force Those Hand Gestures in a Presentation

There's a common misconception that emphatic hand gestures will make you seem more authoritative—but that's just not true. "It's an interesting phenomena," explains Navarro, "but it's not how much you gesture that will help you, it's how you do it. People who are confident gesture more smoothly, but when we lack confidence, we're more jittery and it shows in our hand movements." So if you're not sure you're going to get the gesture out right, don't force it, or you'll risk making the sort of choppy movements that suggest insecurity.

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Rookie mistake: nailing the handshake or the "nice to see you" hug, but then balling your hands up into tiny little fists right after. "Nobody thinks about the space between their fingers," Navarro says, "but they really should!" Since there's a biological impulse to clench your fists or close your hands when you're nervous, doing the opposite works in your favor. "If your fingers are spread out it signals to the other person that you are confident, relaxed," he says.

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When you're a little nervous at a party, wedding, whatever, your first instinct will likely be to stand at attention. And while you might think this benefits you as far as other people's perceptions go―you're alert and engaged!―you're also communicating that you're not relaxed. "We equate rigidness with psychological discomfort," Navarro says. Instead, he recommends standing in a casual crossed leg stance, rather than overexerting yourself to stand straight.

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Don't: Instinctively Plant Your Hands on Your Hips

Sure, it looks great when Jennifer Aniston is posing for the shutterbugs. But in real life, the "arms akimbo" pose, as it's called, comes off as hostile during social interactions.

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Don't: Instinctively Plant Your Hands on Your Hips (Part 2)

"This is a very territorial pose," says Navarro. It's less "I'm confident" than "I'm on alert, and I've got an agenda to push."

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Don't: Slide Into "Body Touching"

Playing with your hair, picking at the thread on your jeans, rubbing your arm as you laugh (hi, Penelope): "These are the little cues that say,'I'm a little anxious,'" says Navarro. Some of them can work in your favor in a flirting situation, but when you're trying to come from a position of power? Not so much.

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Don't: Slide Into "Body Touching" (Part 2)

Neck touching is one of the most common body touching tics—even Angelina Jolie does it from time to time! "Neck touching is extremely accurate: When people lack confidence, there will be a lot of it," Navarro says. "Men do it more robustly while women do it more delicately," he clarifies, but everyone seems to do it too much.

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Do: Ignore That "Women Should Sit; Men Should Stand" Thing

"When someone's sitting down, they are in an inferior position looking up, placing the person in a superior position," Navarro says, suggesting not only that you stand up when you want to make an important point (during a meeting, on a date, whatever) but also just whenever you want to "potentiate the perception of your self-confidence." So get on up!

For more body language tips, check Navarro's book, What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent's Guide to Speed-Reading People, $15, at amazon.com

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