Your doctor rushes into the examination room dressed for tennis and starts asking you pertinent questions about your health. If this is an emergency you’ll think they are truly dedicated to you and their Hippocratic Oath. However, if this is your annual checkup and the doc appears to be seeing you between sets, you may not have complete confidence in their abilities.
Yeah, don’t judge a book by its cover is something we’ve all been taught.
Then why do people invest so much time and energy designing their book covers if they weren’t trying to get you to pay attention to the potential content? Because the wrapper tells you something about what is contained within.
It’s the same for small business owners with your clients, colleagues, and the general public. If you show up looking raggedy and unkempt, or even clean and shiny but inappropriately dressed, your audience may be at best quizzical and at worst insulted that you didn’t take the time to put your best self forward.
They will be distracted by your appearance and will not be able to focus on what you have to offer. They can feel that because of the way you are dressed you don’t really take yourself, your position, or the situation very seriously.
Your appearance can improve or damage your reputation and your bottom line.
There are some general rules for industrious ladies and gents to keep in mind. Always dress at least as well as (and preferably slightly better than) the people you are meeting. Wear clothes that fit, that are clean, and that are unwrinkled.
Ladies – watch your hemlines and necklines. Blouses cut with deep V-necks, short skirts or shorts, and clothing that clings are not right for business. Gents – wear pants that fit at your waist with a belt to keep them in place and a shirt that you didn’t have in high school. As for shoes: flip flops do not qualify, sneakers are for your personal time, and ultra-high heels are an accident waiting to happen.
Expensive clothes punctuated with rips and tears make you look like you’ve been in an accident.
Business events that are after hours or on your day off still need to be treated with respect. This is when you are most likely to make that important first impression. Think of what you want that to be.
Understand that “business” also means when you are part of a non- profit board. As a board member you represent the organization. If your appearance is suspect, it can raise public concerns about how you value the organization and the work they do.
Just to be clear, there are many business owners who are well respected while wearing shorts, sneakers, and a polo shirt with their logo. They can do it because it’s the uniform for the work they do. Their outfit is in perfect concert with their vocation.
It’s the incongruities that will steal your thunder and make it difficult for people to remember any of your intelligent insights. (I once had a district sales manager give a ten minute pep talk to a group of about 100 people, but his tie was so loud all we could focus on was his horribly ugly cravat.)
You have a great story to tell. Don’t let your cover dissuade someone from listening.
As an actor, I can barely see my audience since they are sitting out there somewhere in the dark theater. Without my glasses, even those people in the front rows lit by the glow of the stage are just mannequins to me. But, light up a room to give a speech and BAM! ….there are real breathing people watching me. It used to make me somewhat uncomfortable.
There are a few tricks people offer to manage the terror of a crowd looking back at you. None of them are good.
- Imagine they are naked.
- Look to the back of the room.
- Have an adult beverage before you speak.
If you really want to control the jitters, do just one thing: Look ‘em in the eye.
By making eye contact you make a connection with your audience. Your presentation is no longer an oratory to the masses but a one on one conversation with the people you gaze upon. You’ll get feedback from them, you will engage them, and they will connect with you.
Eye contact is becoming a lost art.
Flirting used to be done with a glance and a grin… now it is an emoji and anxious moments waiting for a text back. It is a less efficient means of communication. Go direct and catch their eye, cut out the middleman.
The easiest way to practice making eye contact is with friends and family. Start by putting your phone down the next time one of your inner circle speaks to you and look them directly in the eye. You might need to wait a few seconds for them to catch on and to look up from their own digital brain. But once they do, you may hear a celestial choir sing.
Making that eye contact tells them that they are the only focus of your life at that very moment. It proves that what they are saying or what you are telling them is very important. It is so important that you needed to see the windows to their very soul to know that the message is being received.
Test it in the real world.
Your next step is to take your show on the road. When you order coffee or pick up your groceries actually look into the eyes of the person behind the register and say “Thank You!” It could be an earth-shattering experience for the clerk because you acknowledged them visually and verbally.
Spend the rest of your day purposefully making eye contact. It will be odd at first, but the more you work on it the easier it will be. Soon you’ll find that it’s like a super power. You’ll make instant connections with people, they will think you are a wonderful communicator, and your confidence will get a boost, too.
Then when you stand in front of your next audience you’ll look ‘em in the eye and think, “I got this!”