Projecting a professional image
One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three Mississippi.
Three seconds. That’s all the time we get to make a first impression.
When you think about it, that’s a lot of pressure, especially in a business setting when so much is riding on what someone thinks of us. It doesn’t matter if the assessment is correct. Once the opinion is formed, it lingers. And if it’s not a positive impression, it can take months of time and effort to undo.
So how do we make sure that three short seconds result in a lifetime of good will? Follow these simple but all-important steps and you will have the tools you need to always put your best foot forward.
Be on time: Whether it be a call, a live meeting or sending an email or proposal, make sure you are on time. It’s rude to keep someone waiting, and it and sends the message that you are unable to manage your time and do not respect the other person’s. That’s not a good way to start a relationship.
Dress for the occasion and your part in it: If you’re the lead planner on a corporate event, you are expected to be professional, organized and buttoned up. Wrinkled clothes, scuffed shoes, wind-blown hair, too much makeup/perfume/cologne sends the wrong impression.
Be prepared: Do your research in advance. Know the client, the space you may be looking at, the goals for the event, your plan to make the location work and how to make it all happen.
Ask good questions: What is your goal? What is the most important thing to you about this topic? What are you looking for in a planner/venue/etc. Ask the person you’re meeting what they want and carefully listen to the answers. Then speak.
Give the matter your undivided attention: Turn off your cellphone. Nothing is more important than the person with whom you are meeting.
Don’t get too comfortable with the client or your co-workers: No matter how well you get along with your co-workers, and even if you are friends outside the office, when you’re at work, keep it professional. Someone may give you a mile of room to navigate within, but if you take an inch more than is being offered, it’s a big no-no.
Don’t drink on the job: It’s just a bad idea. If it’s rude to turn down a glass of wine or a drink with a client, order something very low in alcohol or ask for plenty of ice and make one drink last all night. No good comes from getting tipsy with co-worker, much less intoxicated. If you think a first impression lasts a long time, do something stupid while drunk in front of co-workers. That story will follow you around forever.
Never talk about your other clients or co-workers: If you talk about other people, it’s pretty much assured you’ll talk about the people with whom you are sitting. Be a source of useful, relevant information, not gossip.
Never talk money: If you want a sure-fire recipe for disaster, bring up money. Never discuss what you make or charge, or what anyone else does. Someone will always feel slighted.
Never forget this golden rule: It’s not about you. Your opinion counts until someone disagrees with you, at which point you most likely are going to have to acquiesce and implement someone else’s vision.
Once a relationship is formed, it’s important to maintain your professionalism. These rules never go out of style.
Christy is right on target. Not only do we make decisions about one another in seconds, but 55 percent to 80 percent of those decisions are made visually. It’d be nice if people would get to know one another before making judgments, but research shows that this isn’t likely to happen.
After reading these statistics, I wondered why I’d spent so much time on my presentations and so much money on my training, when such a major part of the impression is based on my appearance and not on my knowledge and expertise. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. It takes years to build an impressive resume. It takes thousands of dollars to improve on one’s education. Our appearance, however, can be changed in minutes! If we want to be taken for the authorities that we are, it is smart business to pay attention to our appearance.
I think most of us agree that we feel better when we look our best. That feeling affects the way we walk, stand, speak and carry ourselves. I’m not talking about anything as shallow as vanity, or whether or a man or woman is strikingly handsome or pretty. What I am talking about is looking professional.
Think about this: Studies at the universities of California and Connecticut show that first impressions are correct at least 67 percent of the time. This might explain why people are more than likely to believe what they see before they believe what we say.
When you’re deciding what’s appropriate to wear, consider the situation, the geography and the climate. Florida in August is very different from a corporate fundraiser in Chicago in January. Consider your audience and the message you want to send. You may want to wear more conservative, professional clothing for a corporate environment but loosen up a bit for more casual audiences.
The final “Beauty” thought: If you want to be seen as a visionary, find the style that best suits your personality and don’t be afraid to express yourself!
Until next time, remember, smart is beautiful!