March 25th, 2008

The Most Important Presentation You’ll Ever Make

How you present yourself can directly affect the way people think of you. Here are some of the lessons I learnt over the years.

  1. Dress appropriately My first job in the creative industry was with a company that that pitched projects for a lot of big corporations. I had no prior experience yet I find myself constantly being asked to be present at client meetings. The reason given was because I make a very believable designer as apposed to “X, who looks like he got just got out of bed, got ran over by a bus and then rolled himself in dirt” or “Y, who looks like a frazzled soccer mom though she’s only 23″. I assumed this meant that I looked like one of them:

    Project Runway - Carmen, Christian, Kit

    (Stylish Carmen, Edgy Christian, Cool Kit from Project Runway)
    On the other hand, it could also mean that I looked like him:

    Project Runway - Chris

    (Flamboyant, Colourful, Crazeh? By the way, I love Chris, he’s such a great character)

    In any case, it was the way I presented myself that influenced the exec’s decision. I was barely 20 and inexperienced, yet because of the way I dressed, I got the opportunity to network with a lot of people, contacts that proved useful in my career later. Lesson: Don’t come to work looking like you’ve been rolling around in dirt.

  2. Dress for success. A year later, in my second job, I decided that I’m ready for bigger things and want to be taken more seriously. I switched to aspiring creative director mode and dressed the part. I got promoted twice in the space of 14 months, one of the reasons being, “You look like someone I can trust to lead a project.” Was I more competent than my fellow colleague who had 2 years more experience? Maybe, but my boss also let on, “He doesn’t look like he’s up for it. I don’t have the confidence in sending someone looking like that to the world. He doesn’t look like a leader.” Being an introvert, I didn’t think of myself as a natural leader. I just dressed like one. Interestingly, when I dressed like winner, I felt like one too.
  3. Say it like you mean it. A lot of inexperienced designers(this applies to other jobs too) tend to share the problem I too had when I was starting out. We may have the talent to create but we don’t have the skill to sell. One of the main problems lies in not sounding confident enough. There are a two things you can do to instantly improve this. Speak up. You need to get yourself heard. Clearly. Do not rush or mumble your sentences – you’d either be constantly asked to repeat yourself, or your points would be lost. Don’t end sentences with a rising inflection. Some people have the habit of ending statements with a rising tone? Like this? I’m trying to tell you something but I sound like I’m asking a question? This gives the impression that the speaker is unsure of him/herself. Or you might sound like a teenager?
  4. Stop over-qualifying your statements and accept credit when it’s due.
    A talented designer I know likes to qualify every statement she makes with “But that’s just my opinion” or “It’s okay, it’s only my opinion” instead of simply saying “In my opinion”. Do not devalue your own opinion. If you don’t take your own opinions seriously, chances are no one else will.What’s even more annoying is the fact that she finds the need to qualify her “thank you’s” too. Instead of just saying “thanks” when complimented, she’d be saying things like “Oh, this crap? It’s not that great actually” or “It was nothing. I didn’t do much”. It doesn’t always come across as being modest. Too much self-depreciation also shows that you don’t value your own contribution.
  5. Smile.
    As simple as it sounds, it took me a long time to realise that a smile can indeed go a mile. I spent years trying to find out why a friend of mine, J, is so magnetic. Strangers come up to talk to her and she always get served first. At first, I didn’t even know why I love hanging out with her so much. Then I realised that she smiles. A lot. It’s nice to be around someone who is the picture of positivity. I smile a lot now and it’s true, I do get served faster and people tend to open up to me more.
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