How many times have you heard the phrase, “Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover?” Yet most of us can’t help ourselves. The phenomanal success of the new e-book, ’50 Shades of Grey’ an extremely racy new novel pitched at women, has been attributed not only to the fact that it is sexually exciting to women of all ages, but also to the fact that it is only available as an e-book. The theory goes that if women had to ride the subway or sit at Starbucks holding the book with its S & M tinged cover, far fewer would have bought it. How often do you think about your “cover” before you go out to present?
Somewhere between sixty and eighty percent of an audience’s response to your message comes from their response to the non-verbal clues; they get upon first meeting you. This makes your clothes, your hair, your posture, even your eyewear, all a part of the story you are telling. If your audience decides you are, “not serious,” “don’t get us,” or worse yet, think that, “there’s something about her, I don’t know what it is, but it just feels off,” your entire presentation will be heard through that filter of negativity.
Conversely, if you meld into the background, if you are just another suit and tie clad salesperson, your audience has no reason to sit up straight and take notice when they first meet you. Standing out from the crowd with your appearance is just as critical as making your audience feel as if you are a member of their tribe.
Does it feel like I’m telling you to rub your stomach while jumping up and down? “Stand out, fit in, how do I do both at the same time?” It’s easy. First, as with everything else about your presentation you have to prepare. Find out about your audience’s “culture.” What are the dress requirements of their workplace? What is the ethos of the town they live in when it comes to “dressing for success?”
Then be honest with yourself about yourself. If you’re a woman, think about what pants do and don’t do for your body. Yes, they’re more comfortable, but do they emphasize areas you’d rather weren’t emphasized, either for the good or the bad. The same applies to hemlines, blouse buttons, and even the material your clothes are made of. You need to be taken seriously, and if your clothes are too sexual or too asexual then it’s going to affect how the audience reacts to you. If you’re a man with facial hair that’s making a statement too, be sure it’s one you want to make.
Pressed jeans and a blazer are like a uniform for a Hollywood producer. Wearing a suit is reserved for encounters with their bank. A producer who showed up in a suit to give a presentation would make an audience feel as wrong, as a banker who showed up in a wife beater and shorts. Again, it’s all about the cover of the book and what expectations it gives you for the content inside.
Once you understand your audience’s expectations of a presenter who fits into your stereotypical category, you can play within the walls of your cage. Think about subtle variations in colors, textures, hem lengths and styling that you can use to make yourself memorable from a visual stand point. Never forget it’s the pictures we use in our presentations that are indelibly stamped on our audience’s minds, and you are the first picture they see. Make yourself memorable.