One of the most challenging elements of being an entrepreneur or executive in business is also one of the least spoken about: Getting through the "firsts" -- first big meeting, first speaking engagement, first round of capital, etc. They're not just monumental milestones that everyone has to do for the first time at least once, but they also require an incredible amount of time and energy to prepare. It goes beyond what you'll be presenting to how you present it -- and that includes what you wear and how you act.
It can be one of the surprisingly small yet very important things you learn in business. It's not just who you know, or what you know, but also how you represent. Power Girls know the value of image and presence.
This past week, I caught up with Virginia Mueller, a fellow entrepreneur and licensed expert in image development, protocol, personal style and etiquette. Work-related skills in these areas aren't something you generally learn at home but from on-the-job experience -- and believe me, we all have horror stories as we learned the ropes. It's not just in how you conduct yourself at the table over lunch but in the boardroom, speaking engagement or other event. Virginia taught a class on the subject in France and has a book contract with Capra Press. Over email she shared her top tips for creating a powerful presence:
Keep It Clean and Focused - Mueller advises that women (and men!) speak and carry themselves as experts and professionals at all times during work hours and events, avoid engaging in industry gossip and keep personal lives private. Refrain from swearing, heavy drinking, etc. and remember to be aware of tone of voice and loudness. "Tone of voice is often too high, too loud or too fast paced for most work and social occasions," she says. Enter the room calm, cool and focused and you'll make a bigger statement than anything.
Become a World Class Listener - It's said that when you talk, it's marketing and when you listen, it is sales. Engage others in conversations about themselves, their work, interests, etc. versus talking solely about yourself. Look to light, easy topics such as food, travel, sports, local dining, events, and current news. Be sure to treat everyone well. As Smarty L.A.'s Amy Swift has said, "You never know who you're talking to." Treat everyone as if they are important.
Watch Non-Verbal Communication - Studies have shown that others respond and react more quickly and positively to someone who appears happy and smiling. "Our body language, clothes, eye contact, etc. all speak louder than our words," Mueller says. Rules for clothing are general and easy to follow -- nothing too short, too tight or too revealing. Save sky high heels for non-work events. Grooming is also important, including the condition of hair, nails, etc.
Don't Oversell - Mueller says that one of the most common mistakes women make in etiquette or presenting themselves in business is coming on too strong to prove they're smart. "Find ways to make yourself indispensible without talking about it," she shares. Great ways to articulate you're A-game is through interesting anecdotes or comments relating to projects, clients, etc. Watch for opportunities. Dazzle guests with good conversation and manners and they'll Google you later.
"Outward appearances disclose us to the world," Mueller adds. "Clothes scream, yell and clamor like cheerleaders on our behalf, for better or worse." She says visuals are "so profoundly important because they're the only part of us that most people get to experience."
"We're walking advertisements of ourselves," she adds. Power Girls get it.