Recently I attended a conference in Washington, DC where a panel of several women presented their ideas and answered questions from the audience. It was after lunch and I’d made the mistake of eating bread, which often makes me drowsy, and I came close to nodding off several times. All of the women were successful and intelligent, but most of them had voices or body language that came across as weak. Some of the women were dressed powerfully and others were not.
One woman finally woke me up with her resounding and powerful voice, even though her attire was wimpy. Her voice kept me awake, but her image was a definite disconnect, because she wore a pastel run-of-the-mill blazer pantsuit that was in need of tailoring. Now this isn’t a disaster on its own, because accessories can take up the slack when color and style let you down. Unfortunately, she wore no accessories and looked rather blah.
I spoke with the speaker afterwards because I knew her well, and she told me she dressed to “identify” with the audience. That’s a big mistake. This woman proclaims to be unique in her field and a mover and shaker; however, she didn’t look the part. Her image was as weak as the voices of the other women on the panel. When you bring in an expert, you expect to see someone who fits the job description, not someone who looks like you. If he or she looks ordinary, it diminishes credibility. If you’re an expert, dress the part. You wouldn’t be happy to see your airline pilot dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, would you?
A lot of people tell me they are “natural speakers.” I’m not so sure this is the case. Most likely, they are simply not shy about getting up in front of a crowd. Most of the famous speakers I know tell me they are introverts. Really successful speakers know that getting people to buy into what you have to say requires three things:
1. A Credible Message With Credentials to Match.
The more unique your message is, the more likely your audience will perk up and show interest. No one cares to hear re-hashed information. So, if you have found a new or better way to do things, or if your research indicates the competition is on the wrong track, your audience will be anxious to hear your point of view.
2. The Ability to Convey Your Message With Passion.
Some people are born with a powerful voice, and they have a natural advantage. However, some of the most successful speakers gain power by the obvious passion and sincerity in their voices. They have also taken the time to join organizations such as the National Speakers Association or Toastmaster to improve their speaking skills. The adage, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it,” turns out to be a powerful truth.
3. An Image that Corresponds With or Exceeds Your Credentials and Passion.
It’s a common but erroneous belief that an “understated” look is perceived to be more refined and, thus, more credible. However, beige and other “understated” colors convey little or no authority. That’s because the darker the color, the higher the authority. PhD social psychologist Kevin Hogan reports that in order to have immediate credibility and respect, you must have an image that conveys that you are a high-status person. He suggests that suits worn with quality accessories will communicate this. However, he doesn’t mention color when it comes to suits. Dark colors convey power and authority, pastels do not. That’s why policemen wear navy blue and not beige. High-status accessories include quality shoes, belts, ties, briefcases and jewelry. Hogan mentions brooches for women as being particularly powerful. High-status ties for men never have gaudy colors or patterns.
If you want to wow your audience, hone your speaking skills as well as your message without words: your image.
Sandy Dumont is a professional speaker and an acknowledged leader in the arena of professional image. She has presented on three continents and has produced numerous books, DVDs and boxed sets on the subject of corporate and professional image. Please contact her at (757) 627-6669(757) 627-6669 or visit www.TheImageArchitect.com for a complimentary consultation.