What does your attire say about you?

How you dress can be an incredibly important part of your personal brand.

This morning Peter Bodo, for my money the best tennis writer around, has an interesting piece trashing Roger Federer for his dandified Wimbledon attire. I’ve always thought Federer’s attire a little odd. But I’ve loved his tennis so much that I just ignored it.  But I have to admit that this year Federer seems to have gone over the top.

Bodo writes: “It’s distressing that Federer, who (admirably enough) claims to love “tradition” should be party to what amounts to a grotesque parody of it. Who’s he trying to be, Big Bill Tilden – or some Don Ho cut loose on the greensward?”

It’s a lesson for all of us that are trying to connect with audiences.  People are not only judging just what we say. They’re also paying attention to how we look.

I write this with a tinge of regret.  You should be able to express yourself with your clothes. And I encourage you to do so.

But choose your clothes carefully. Because when you wear a bow tie, people will think “What’s up with the bow tie?”

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The goal is always to stand out from the crowd — but in a good way

Marketing guru Seth Godin has an intriguing post today about “Fitting in versus standing out.”     He points out that in everything you do, you need to choose whether you want to fit in or stand out.

In the public speaking and sales presentation world, I think the choice is obvious. You need to stand out.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you need to be fool. You need to stand out as the obvious choice, the best partner, or a clear leader.

The problem I see is that many people find that extremely scary.  “If I present like that,” one client one told me as I urged her to speak with more passion and to hone her points more, “then people are going to notice that I’ve changed.”

To which I respond, “Yes. We’re not here to help you become average. We want you stand out.”

Stand out in a good way. Stand out in a good way. Stand out in a way that makes people want to be aligned with you.

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How to Win a Pitch Against a Rival with a More Established Brand

The other day  I was conducting a workshop with a consulting firm about how to win a pitch.  A consultant raised his hand and asked “How do we win if we have to go up against IBM?”

While this was a great consulting firm, they didn’t have a brand as well-established as IBM.  As a result, they had lost business to IBM and other better-branded rivals.

 Indeed, many firms in many businesses face what I call the “the IBM problem.”  They run up against the old saying that “no one was ever fired for hiring IBM.”  In other words, if you have to decide between two closely matched potential business partners, most will go with the more established brand because it’s easier to justify your decision up the corporate heirarchy.

But that doesn’t mean that the lesser brand will always lose.  The established brand wins when everything else is equal. But that doesn’t mean that everything else needs to be equal.

You Beat the Superior Brand With Execution

You beat IBM by executing the fundamentals of the pitch better than your competition.

Fundamental # 1. Focus your pitch on solving the prospect’s business problem.  Estblished brands can get complacent and rely on the power of their brand, discussing their past successes rather than how they plan to solve the prospect’s specific business problem.  If you detail a specific plan to help your prospect and the branded rival doesn’t, then you move to the top of the stack.

Fundamental #2. Make sure that your message is simple.  If you speak in a way that is easy for people to understand, that distinguishes you from the competition. Your branded rival may not have as simple a message.

Fundamental # 3. Leave plenty of time for Q&A.  How you answer questions allows your prospect to probe your intellect. They see who you are and forget about the branding issue.

Fundamental #4. Speak with energy. A brand is a static idea that is fixed in the mind of the prospect. If you come across as exciting to work with, you can easily surpass the superior brand. On the other hand, if you speak in a flat monotone and your rival does too, then they will go with the brand.

Fundamental #5. Rehearse like crazy.  If you come in well-rehearsed, then you will demonstrate your intense interest in winning the business.  The established brand might not come off as well.

The reason that IBM has established a great brand is that they have performed at a consistently high level for many years. But that doesn’t mean that in a given pitch, you can’t outperform them.  If you execute these fundamentals, you can beat IBM.

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Anderson Cooper on the Value of Gray Hair

If you’re thinking of getting rid of your gray hair, don’t do it if you’re a man, says the famously gray-headed CNN anchor Anderson Cooper.

“In the TV news business, gray equals gravitas,” writes Cooper in a funny column posted to the CNN.com website. “In fact, in just about any line of work being prematurely gray is an advantage. On a guy, gray hair says, “I’m mature, stable. I can be relied on.”

Note the qualification, “On a guy.”  Cooper admits that there is a huge double standard here.

“Women don’t get a free pass,” Cooper writes, admitting that our sexist society doesn’t favor gray-haired women in the same way it favors men.

At Speechworks, we don’t take a position on whether you should color your hair or not. Plenty of men with gray hair are terrible speakers.  And plenty of women with gray hair are wonderful speakers. 

But people do judge us based on superficial things.  An accounting firm partner told us how they had lost a pitch for a new piece of business. When they asked the decision-maker why they weren’t selected, they were told, “Your expert didn’t have enough gray hair.”

Frankly, hair color is pretty low on the list of priorities for improving your speaking skills.  We say, “Be yourself and do what makes you comfortable.”

If you really want to improve your skills, focus first on improving your voice energy. Speak with passion.  Engage your listeners with more intense facial expressions.  If you’ve do those things, no one will care about your hair.

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As Banks Market “Trust”, Execs Must Connect

“The image that we are going to be trying to project for the next 10 years will be safety and security.”

Those were the words yesterday of the senior vice president for external communications for a major bank.  I was meeting with him to discuss a program to help his senior executives improve their ability to give presentations to community groups.

Since I’m in the business of training executives to give speeches, of course, I found his words particularly interesting.  But his words also seem to point out that with the financial services industry melting down, banking executives in coming years will have to dramatically improve their image.

The financial services industry, more than any other, sells trust. If the public won’t trust a particular bank or investment firm with its money, that institution can’t function.

So how are financial institutions going to rebuild trust after the current debacle? True regulatory reform will obviously play a major role. And I’m sure that marketing and advertising will have a role.  

But a firm’s brand, contrary to what many think, is not the responsibility of the marketing organization.  Ultimately, the most important bearer of the brand are the executives and employees themselves.

If a financial services company wants to build trust, then their people are going to have to inspire confidence. Part of the way you do that is by learning to communicate with your customers, business partners, regulators, and prospects in a way that connects.

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