In two weeks time I will be attending a conference with other small business owners. We will be meeting and hearing from eight national journalists on what make great stories and articles for their publications. I am very excited about going and naturally my thoughts turned to what I should be wearing in order to represent myself and my business to their best advantage. I want to ensure that I not only make a great first impression, but also a lasting one.
First impressions matter
It is estimated that it takes between 3-11 seconds for people to make assumptions about us based on our appearance. When we meet someone new they will instantly sub-consciously make judgements about our education level, competence, trustworthiness, ethnicity, background, political beliefs, etc… We may not like this and feel that is not ‘fair’ to be judged so comprehensively after such a short time, but we can’t escape it either.
Even more annoyingly this first impression will be followed up with something that image consultant Sylvie di Giusto calls ‘confirmation bias’. As humans we like to be right! That means we will be looking for signs that our assumptions after those first few seconds were correct. It becomes harder to change someone’s view of us retrospectively.
If reading this has you in a bit of a panic – you are not alone! Even though I work in fashion I still get stressed about live events. Perhaps even more so, because I feel that I have to be perfectly turned out. But I have all the same hang-ups about my shape and wardrobe as most other women I know. I have good and bad days and days I couldn’t care less. So here are a few tips for you and me on how to get ready for a conference, public speaking engagement or other live event.
1. Plan ahead
“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Alan Lakein
If you are reading this you are probably well on your way towards planning ahead. Giving some thought to what you will wear to an event will set you up for success, because you will have made some conscious choices about the clothes that will help you feel confident and comfortable. You will be ensuring that you don’t leave the house or your hotel room in a hot bothered sweat from having tried on different outfits, only to reject them. I think it’s a good idea to begin with one piece that you love and that always makes you feel great. Start building your outfit around this bearing in mind that you are not just dressing yourself, but your business too. Are your choices the best representation of you and your company? Do your values come across?
2. Dress authentically
“It’s not about being someone you’re not. It’s about affecting others without saying a word.” Sylvie di Giusto
Perhaps at this point you are tempted to book in for a complete style make-over, but I would encourage you to take a step back and assess your current look. Do you have clothes that you feel comfortable and confident in? What do you wear when you go to meet a new client? What is your favourite piece of clothing and why does it work for you? Chances are you already have things in your wardrobe that you like even if it is a favourite necklace or pair of shoes. There is no need to start from zero. Making small changes can have a big impact. So start with what you have and if you do decide to go out and buy something new…shop with intention. Be clear about what you are looking for so that you don’t get overwhelmed by everything the high street has to offer. For more tips on developing your style for business have a listen to this fantastic podcast episode with stylist Lou Storey and PR specialist Janet Murray.
3. Upgrade your look
One of the top tips in the above mentioned podcast is to give yourself a free upgrade. Think about what you wear to the office on a normal day and take it up a notch by swapping one item for a smarter alternative. For example if you would usually wear a pair of jeans upgrade them to a tailored pair of trousers. Or if you mostly wear trainers change them for a pair of statement flats or heels (but only if you can cope with wearing them for an entire day). Maybe you rarely wear jewellery and adding an interesting necklace can give you the boost you need.
4. Get your clothes ready
If you have things that need to be dry-cleaned make sure you take them in a week before the event so that they will be back in time. This is all the more important if you will be travelling in with an overnight stay. Pack carefully to minimise creasing and hang up your clothes in the hotel bathroom once you arrive. The damp air will help them relax – move them to your room afterwards to air out and dry.
5. Smile and relax
Once you are dressed and ready make sure you pack your smile and relax. This is the time to stop thinking about what you are wearing and to be quietly confident in the choices you have made – even if they are imperfect. Style constantly evolves, so try not to stress and enjoy your experience. If you are still feeling nervous take a moment in a quiet corner somewhere and practice some power poses. The confidence boost this will give you has been proven to work!