Tag Archives: first impressions

Follow the dress code

2 Feb
At a semi-formal event, don't show up in a t-shirt.

At a semi-formal event, don’t show up in a t-shirt.

I was out at a networking event at a hotel in an upscale Toronto neighbourhood last night. The invitation gave a semi-formal dress code, so I put on a dress and a pair of heels and went on my way.

When I got there, what I saw when I surveyed the crowd of entrepreneurs confused me. Though the dress code was quite clear, several men were in very casual dress. It made me wonder if they came straight from their non-semi-formal work place to the semi-formal event, and didn’t, or weren’t able to pay any heed to the event expectations.

One of these casual men  approached me and inquired about my business. Depending on the person, some men will get really excited because they’re talking to the first woman in Canada to specialize in men’s image, others will look downtrodden because they remember what they decided to wear that day, and still others will outright recoil (possibly out of shame or fear of being judged). This particular man was a member of the business team that put the event together, and he took a great interest in my work.

Of course, he asked me how he was doing with his wardrobe. Normally, this costs money, no different than asking for free legal advice, but I indulged him. I stepped back and took in his ordinary shoes, jeans, and a white knit Henley shirt.

“Well,” I said, “you’re in very casual clothes tonight.”

“Yes, is that okay?” he asked.

“Considering that the invitation says “semi-formal”,  you didn’t seem to pay that any mind.”

“So what is your advice?” he asked.

“Dress for the dress code.”

It’s simple, really. When an invitation gives a suggestion of what to wear so that you are appropriate for and comfortable at the event, follow that lead. Otherwise, it creates confusion in people and probably isn’t that good for business because you’ve entered an event on a rule and broken it. We only get one chance to make a first impression.

When a person is under-dressed or looks as though they have not made any attempt to dress for the level that is expected, it can have a negative impact. A casual look at a semi-formal occasion may conjure impressions of laziness, ignorance, disdain, spite, and a devil-may-care attitude – not exactly a respectable image to project at a business event where you’re trying to sell your services.

The best thing to do is dress for the dress code. It exists for a reason, and your appropriate look will be much more appealing to others – especially in a business setting. Even if you’re still in jeans, take a sports jacket to the event – this will immediately elevate your outfit. Another option is to change your footwear to a fancier, more stylish shoe – this can also up your look.

First impressions are hard to shake. Do it right the first time and heed the dress code.

Image disconnect

19 Jan

Wouldn't it be weird if this man was actually an insurance professional?

A business contact that I have a lot of faith in sent me a link to a sales tip blog by a salesman who has been working in sales for decades and has influenced thousands of people with his sales tactics. I went to the blog site and there on the first page, before any text, before any sales tips, was a picture of the author – a man easily 56-years old but probably a lot younger, skin pale, hairstyle dated, wearing rectangular tinted eyeglasses and a plain white collared shirt. I saw a middle-aged science teacher from the 70s. I did not see a sales guru.

I kept his web page up to read for about a week with the intention of reading it but in the end, I just couldn’t do it. I just didn’t have faith in him.  The man had absolutely no presence.

You only get one chance at a first impression

Now, some of you will be chastising me for not giving this man a chance, but this is exactly the point. We only have one chance to make a first impression, and to me, I saw a disconnect between what this man does for a living and the way he projects himself; the two together just didn’t add up. This man did not look like a “sales guru” let alone a professional, so I decided that his advice was probably as dated as his haircut. In other words, I felt that his credibility was questionable because his messages were confused.

When I’m talking about politicians to the media, we often discuss what visual cues promote believability and trustworthiness. I tell them that when there is a disconnect between what a politician says, how he looks, and his body language, he affects people’s opinion of him. The same goes for any one else – when we send mixed messages, our integrity is compromised and we become suspect.

In your personal life and in business, a fragmented image isn’t going to be doing you any favours. Here are some more examples to help you understand how this works:

–> I know a fellow in the insurance industry who insists that he is warm and understanding. He could very well be warm and understanding, but the sight of a thin, pasty-skinned man with long wiry hair and large glasses makes him look rather like a mad scientist, not anyone particularly “warm”. I’m not sure how many people could get past this first vision of him and accept him as a “warm” person because he certainly doesn’t project that feeling. The disconnect between what I see and what I hear throws me into confusion and I doubt what he says.

–> If I had a meeting with a person I only knew from his picture on the web, and he looked about 35 with a full head of hair, and the man I met was actually 55 and balding, I would certainly be confused and I might decide to not trust him (if you’re using a 20-year old picture, this could be interpreted as a little something called “dishonesty”). People recognize and trust genuine and honest people, and if people perceive that you’re not being open and honest with them, you may have to kiss the business/kiss the girl/boy good-bye. This happens a lot with internet dating. It’s in your best interest to maintain an honest and up-to-date online web presence.

–> I volunteer for a cultural organization in Toronto and we are in the process of updating our website. The woman in command and I met with a fellow who raved about the websites he’s created and was sure that we would be convinced that he was our man for the job. When we met with him, he was dressed in dusty clothes and his skin was rough. This vision was immediately confusing to us because we expected to meet someone who looked like a web designer, not a drywaller. On top of this, the man did not prepare anything for our meeting – I came to the meeting with more ideas than he did. What’s wrong with this picture? He looks and behaves opposite to the way he came off during telephone and email contact, and guess what? He didn’t get the job.

–> About 10 years ago, I was buddies with Andy. Andy was a computer geek and had a lot of friends. I got to know one of his friends who helped me with some internet something-or-other and we exchanged some friendly emails. I thought he was a nice guy. A couple of weeks later, I had a party. Andy and his friend were supposed to come together, but Andy couldn’t make it in the end. I suggested that his friend come anyway.

Party night. Andy’s friend buzzes in from downstairs. I open the door to a tall, scruffy man wearing a ripped Ren & Stimpy t-shirt, and reeking of body odor. I sensed something menacing about him. I was so thrown off by what was in front of me that I questioned his identity to make sure that he was Andy’s friend. He was. Dang. Being a polite Canadian, I let him in but I wish I hadn’t. He unleashed himself upon my guests, overpowered them with his stink, bombarded them with his conspiracy theories, and creeped them out by his general demeanor. What an awful experience.

Sending, or not being aware of sending inauthentic messages, might cause you to lose out. I’m telling you this, men, because I don’t want you to make the same mistakes as the fellas in our examples. We’re looking for honour here, gentlemen, an awareness of who we are and the messages we send out to the world about who we are. Are you aware of the messages you’re sending? Are they true and balanced, or are they inconsistent and unclear? How do your messages affect your relationships?

The theory of credibility

10 Nov

credible adj. 1 (of a person or statement) believable or worthy of belief. 2 (of a threat etc.) convincing.

Marshall McLuhan, always neat in his suits, collars, and ties - you may not have understood him, but you probably believed him.

credibility n. 1 the condition of being credible or believable. 2 reputation, status.

Oxford Modern English Dictionary

Credibility is something all professionals strive for; it is the sense of being established in one’s work and an expert in one’s field. Credibility can be reached through various methods like publishing one’s work, gaining professional recognition or media attention, winning awards, working with established peers, having a weighty client list, or other impressive experience. This is the hard proof, that which can’t be denied, but there is another side of credible, a rather intangible one, something not often recognized or spoken about but something that deeply affects  people’s opinions of us: our image. Our image influences other’s perception of us and can have direct bearing on our credibility.

For those of you who understand the image concept, the idea that everything about us – how we look, our actions, our demeanor, how we treat people, etc., sends messages out to the world that will be judged accordingly, you’ll understand that things like bad hygiene, ill-fitting clothes, or a bad attitude will often trump anything we do have going for us,  lowering our worth as a professional and diminishing our credibility that we’ve worked so hard for.

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I suggest that as a culture, we don’t put a lot of stock in people who are foul-smelling and unkempt in their dated clothes. We could probably think of several adjectives to describe people such as this, and I’m willing to bet that “credible” is not going to be among them. If we think about the concept “credible” and imagine what it would look like, I expect that most of us would have a neat, clean, well-groomed, and properly fitted vision.

Intellectual image

I was fortunate enough to attend an informal academic panel discussion on Canada’s most famous media theorist in a lovely historic arts club in downtown Toronto recently. I came in with an open mind to listen and learn from the members of the panel, each an expert in his field. I was struck with how visually different each of these men were and I tried to notice how I reacted to them based on their wardrobe and general look and not what they discussed – as in, it’s not what they say, it’s how they say it and from what guise it is heard from.

A woman who understood what I do as a men’s image consultant sat with me at the event and asked what I made of the way the panelists were dressed.

“The academic wardrobe is not usually impressive,” I said, “many of them don’t have an awareness of what they look like because they’re always thinking and in their own heads.”

Heady intellectual types often don’t realize that they’ve been wearing the same suit for 25 years because they haven’t looked up from their research, writing, or their intellectual goals. Being engrossed in one’s work is wonderful but it doesn’t have to make us unaware of ourselves. A position of unawareness can be a bit dangerous because whether we like it or not, humans make judgments of others based visual perceptions, and our wardrobe, hair style, grooming, and body language speaks for us first, and this can have direct bearing on our credibility.

The panel

Each of the panelists looked surprisingly different from the rest, and of course, my opinion of them as people and as experts was influenced by what I saw. In my description of the panelists, I’ve tried to be as objective as possible so I won’t colour your opinions because this time, we’re going to do something a little different: instead of reading about my take on the gents on the academic panel, readers, let’s have you do a reading of the panelists in an effort for you to become more aware of others and of yourself.

On your own, try thinking of an adjective or two for each panelist to describe how they come across to you, then using a simple rating system where 1 is the lowest and 5 is the highest, rate their credibility level. Remember that you’ll only be going on visual descriptions and you will not know what they presented, their position, nor their field of expertise.

Panelist 1. Full beard, wild eyebrows, thin, combed grey hair, white shirt, club tie, too-large suit. Expressive face.

Panelist 2. Small, red-faced man with a conservative hair style and a good-fitting white shirt, tie, dark slim suit.

Panelist 3. Pony tail. Jacket too large, too large earth-toned shirt, white t-shirt visible under too-large collar. Dated tie.

Panelist 4. Clean, modern eye glasses, short haircut, neat dark denim, shirt, tie, and v-neck sweater. Compact.

Panelist 5. Hair casual. Short-sleeved black rayon shirt with the word RENEGADE emblazoned in large red letters across the front.

Panelist 6. Plain pale blue sport shirt with 2 buttons open at neck, trousers. Short hair, balding. The tallest panelist.

What impression did the panelists make on you based on what they looked like? Did you take any of them seriously? Who would you trust?

How did they do on your rating scale? What makes each expert seem more or less credible than the other panelists? Most importantly, can you objectively apply this scale to yourself so that you can craft a more convincing and authentic professional image?