August 13


What You’re Saying Before Speaking A Word

By Sara Canaday

August 13, 2009

career success, leadership, leadership behaviors, leadership development, leadership skills, management, professional development

Austin Business District
By Sara Canaday

You’ve no doubt heard about the importance of making a good first impression, and you may even rehearse what you’re going to say to people when meeting them for the first time. But you may not know a startling fact about first impressions – they’re often made before you even get a chance to speak!

Studies show that first impressions are made and set within the first 30 seconds of an encounter. On top of that, more than 70 percent of communication is non-verbal, meaning the tone of your voice, your gestures, and the image you project is saying more about you than the words you’re carefully choosing.

That’s why it’s important to think about your professional image. Though not always a comfortable topic, the fact is we judge and are being judged by others based on appearances and other non-verbal cues. It’s human nature! Here are a few basic tips on how to make this work for you.

Dress for impact. As you assemble your wardrobe, think about your industry and your role within your company. If you’re in the finance, banking, insurance, or legal fields, a conservative, high-quality suit (or tone-on-tone separates) in black, charcoal, or navy will underscore your professionalism, power, and credibility. That same look on an advertising professional, however, might distract clients who are expecting a more innovative look. For professionals in more creative fields, a well-coordinated ensemble with interesting ornamentation or accessories can better project creativity.

Don’t give in to trends. You don’t have to buy the latest fashions to make an impact. In fact, if the latest fashions are geared toward celebrities and younger shoppers, it’s probably not helping you project the image of a professional adult. I advise my clients to start with a few time-tested basics, including tailored jackets, which add class and sophistication to an ensemble. You can then integrate trendier items to accentuate the timeless pieces anchoring your wardrobe.

Think comfort. It’s worth the expense to find well-cut and well-sized items from good fabrics, even if it means finding a tailor to help make your clothes fit perfectly. The more comfortable you are in your clothes, the more confidence you’ll project. Beware of denim or casual knit fabrics, though – you don’t want to project that you’re soft, playful, or too laid-back.

It’s not just about the clothes. While smart wardrobe choices can make an impact, remember that a new hairstyle, new eyewear, and accessories like purses and jewelry can also go a long way toward projecting the kind of smart, confident image you want.

While you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, it’s also never too late to reinvent yourself. As you meet new people, and reintroduce yourself to those you’ve met before, remember that a refined self-image can give you additional confidence, which will communicate volumes even before you say a single word.

Sara Canaday

About the author

Sara began her journey working full-time while she earned an MBA. As she climbed the ladder of corporate America, she repeatedly observed a surprising phenomenon: the most successful people weren’t necessarily the ones with the highest IQ or best job skills. She recognized instead that career advancement was much more closely linked with how people applied their knowledge and talents — their capacity to collaborate, communicate, and influence others.

Today, Sara is happily fulfilling that commitment as a keynote speaker, author, and executive coach. These venues have given her the opportunity to mentor and support thousands of people in diverse situations, inspiring many of them to move from insight to action with dramatic career results.

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