I’m often amazed how many poor communicators spend hours honing their scripts, seeking to choose exactly the right words, only to pay no attention whatsoever to the visual judgments that audiences are making about them every time they get up to speak.
Like it or not, without fail or exception, your audience is judging you. They’re looking at the way you are standing, your dress, your eye contact, your bearing and are making silent judgments about you. In fact, my own research suggests that people make decisions about you in the first seven seconds they see you.
Any job-seeker when looking for advice on landing the right position will no doubt see countless articles and how-tos that recycle the phrase, “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” While those articles may be geared toward someone trying to get a job, the tenet still applies to you: your job is to win the confidence of your audience, educate them, and inspire action. Are you “dressing” for that job?
The way you look and clothes you wear make a very strong visual statement about how you see yourself. So, how do you avoid negative first impressions and get your presentation off on the right foot without unnecessary distractions?
Look in the mirror.
While you’re practicing and right before you go on, pretend like you’re an actor in a dressing room. Look into a mirror and begin to visualize how you want your communication to play out.
- Take stock of what you look like in the mirror. Don’t be overly critical of your appearance but be objective. Did you cut yourself shaving? Clean it up. Are you wearing a suit or ensemble that doesn’t quite fit right anymore? Find another set of clothes. Having a bad hair day? Take the time to fix your hair.
- What you don’t want to do is distract your audience by having them think, “Hmmm … something’s out of place here. His tie is too short. His button is unbuttoned. Her blouse is covered with lint.” Because once an audience starts thinking about your appearance they’re not going to remember a word you say.
- Try to assume a role the way an actor does. People who look or carry themselves like they have a positive self-image—people brimming with optimism, hope, and confidence—tend to communicate those good feelings right along with their ideas.
While you can’t always judge a book by its cover, book-jacket and product-packaging designers have created a niche industry based on the notion that people do indeed purchase products based upon how they look.
The fact is, how you present yourself visually will affect your audience and their ability to really “hear” you. So, go ahead and take a look in that mirror…