Visual Cues: Designing First And Lasting Impressions
Shall I address the elephant in the room? Appearance can be a very taboo and sensitive subject. In the workforce, there is an unfortunate history of discrimination based on appearance, gender, race and color. To be clear, I am an advocate for diversity in leadership. My clients come from all sorts of backgrounds, genders and nationalities. When I discuss appearance with them, I am not talking about size, skin or hair color, or anything of that sort.
Instead, my clients and I focus on posture, body language, facial expressions and clothing choices—all aspects of their appearance that can be leveraged to contribute to their executive presence as a business leader. While these visual aspects are not the most critical factors in defining a successful leader, they can be harnessed to help establish a confident demeanor and boost a team’s trust.
Like it or not, many people make snap judgments based on appearance, so once we accept that fact, why not stack the deck in our favor? Then with the knowledge of the type of leader we want to be, we can make small adjustments to make sure that the visual cues we send to others match up with the image of ourselves we wish to project.
In a recent session, my client was preparing to make a company-wide presentation at her staff’s annual conference. She wanted to make a good impression, so we discussed what type of statement she wanted to make with her appearance.
When preparing a presentation, most people focus solely on the content of their presentation—the meat and potatoes. And they 100% should. However, experience has taught me that a presentation launches from the moment you enter the room. Your appearance and demeanor speak volumes long before you begin to verbally communicate.
Together, we concocted a plan to help establish the leadership image she wished to convey, using specific visual cues. She wanted to go for a business casual look—approachable yet professional and competent. She chose a pair of dark blue boot-cut jeans, a tucked-in cream blouse and a sleet grey blazer with discreet necklace and earrings. She would wear her hair back in a sleek ponytail so that her hair would look coiffed and not get in the way of her making eye contact with those around her.
As for body language, she would walk into the room with her documents and phone tucked in a leather bag on her shoulder so she could be available to keep her head up, make eye contact with those around her and have her hands free for a handshake to those who offered it.
By making these small but intentional choices, my client is setting herself up for success in this presentation. She is leveraging posture, body language and apparel to boost her executive presence in the room.
Have you ever considered what visual cues you are sending out to others? Some leaders have created vision or mood boards to brainstorm the aesthetic and image they hope to project. Intentionally preparing your appearance in terms of body language, apparel or facial expressions can be a powerful tool in boosting your image and how others perceive you—ultimately contributing to your overall leadership presence.
This article has previously been featured on Forbes