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Your Presentation Package Counts: the Power of the Visual Message

curly blonde wigI’m always fascinated by things that people don’t realize about themselves, things that might be significantly impacting their careers in a less-than-positive way. These bad mannerisms, wardrobe “malfunctions,” etc., all seem so obvious to us, don’t they? Yet often people have no clue.

Case in point: I recently offered some impromptu coaching for a woman – a Millennial – after one of my presentation skills programs that was one of many sessions at a conference. She was looking to enhance her leadership and presentation skills. “Tell me about your hair,” I said, referring to the gorgeous mane that hung down past her posterior.

“It’s just me,” she said, looking a bit confused.

“Yes, and it’s beautiful,” I said, “but what do you do with it when you speak?”
Her confusion deepened. “Well,” she said hesitantly, “this is who I am. This is me. I don’t do anything with it.”

My response? “Do you want people talking about your hair, or the content of your presentation?”

Then, she understood the message I was trying to convey to her: The visual part of our “package” affects the other two – the verbal and vocal delivery.

It didn’t matter how eloquent or well-spoken she was, her extremely long hair moving around when she spoke and gestured was distracting, and taking away from the power of her message.

I later received an e-mail from this young woman, saying my coaching about the importance of a professional package and specific feedback about her hairstyle was the most significant information that she had received during the entire conference. In fact, she had taken my words to heart and styled her long tresses into a professional “up ‘do,” and noticed an immediate impact on her audience response and post-program feedback.
Yes, we want to be authentic and true to ourselves. But at the same time, we need to understand the impact our choices are making on others. Are they helping or hindering our efforts to be seen as a leader?

Do you know how others see you? If it could be any other way than as a well-groomed professional, I suggest you take an honest look at what image you are presenting.

Here are my three best practices to ensure your visual message is as powerful as your content and delivery:

1. Ask three people close to you for a frank appraisal of your professional image. Does it say leadership? Does it say competent? You might be very surprised at the feedback. Even in 2014, we still judge the proverbial book by its cover.

2. Observe men or women in your company or industry who are above you on the corporate ladder. These are professionals with careers you admire, who are where you might like to be some day. Is your image as put together, as professional, as sharp as theirs?

3. For any interview, presentation, meeting or even one-on-one conversation: when in doubt, please err on the side of conservative. If you aren’t sure if your blouse is too low cut for the occasion, why risk it? If you aren’t sure if your hair is six weeks past a haircut, why not get one?

There are small, simple tweaks you can make to your image, but the effect on your career might be large!

I’d love to hear your experiences with this. Have you had anyone ever tell you to “clean up your act?” Or, do you have a question about image that you’d like to ask me? Time to share!

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