When I was a kid, television meant three channels. Whoopee! But on our satellite TV system today, my children have a choice of five hundred channels, and online, that number is nearly unlimited. The difference is extraordinary and very important. My production experience in a five-hundred-channel universe indicates that people take less than five seconds to decide to watch your program. That’s it. Think about how quickly you handle a typical TV remote and what little chance you give each program to grab your attention. Audiences today are sophisticated and aren’t willing to put up with programs that don’t interest them. Therefore, I always advise my media clients that how a program is packaged is just as important as its content. For instance, no matter how brilliant the program content might be, it has to be packaged in a high quality, contemporary, and compelling way. Otherwise, the viewer won’t watch long enough to hear the content, and you’ve lost the audience. In the same way, you need a compelling “package” in order to be perceived as powerfully as possible. What elements combine to make your package great? Here are a few to consider:
How You Look
Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society. —Mark Twain
My father used to say, “If you dress like a pauper, you’ll never get an audience with the king.” Although styles today are much more relaxed than in the past, there are still strong feelings among people about clothes and the impact they have on perception. Even in Hollywood, where jeans are considered “business attire,” if you look closely, you’ll find those jeans are often accompanied by an exotic leather belt, an expensive linen sport coat, a designer T-shirt, a pair of alligator loafers, and a twenty-thousand-dollar watch.
But understand that it’s not about money; it’s about a style that’s appropriate for the situation. Don’t become a clothing snob and use them as weapons to elevate yourself above others. No one respects a person in the office who uses clothes as a label to separate them from everyone else. But do know and learn the power of how to dress appropriately and how clothes can be used to give you access to people, places, and events.
How You Speak
Make sure you have finished speaking before your audience has finished listening. —Dorothy Sarnoff, opera singer
At the highest levels of corporate America, you rarely hear the sound of regional accents. A Southern accent sprinkled with local mannerisms may sound cute in your hometown, but the more you travel beyond the city limits, the more you’ll sound simply out of place. Talking like a cast member of The Sopranos may be desirable in parts of New Jersey, but in parts of Texas, you could be shot on sight.
Proper grammar is another basic issue that frightfully few take the time to fix. If you want to increase your value and perception in the eyes of other people, never open your mouth unless you’re speaking proper English and using grammatically correct sentences. Remember that in most business situations, your speaking voice and writing abilities are your most important communication tools, therefore, poor grammar muddles up your meaning.
No matter how old you are, it’s never too late to improve your communication abilities. A quarterback wouldn’t neglect his passing skills because that’s often the key to his success. In the same way, your brilliance and business expertise will never be known or understood if you can’t express those ideas clearly and accurately.
Those that are good manners at the court are as ridiculous in the country as the behavior of the country is most mockable at the court. —William Shakespeare
Knowing instinctively how to act in a variety of situations is a critical element to increasing perception. Some football coaches are brilliant on the field, but at a dinner party, they become bumbling fools. In the same way, I’ve met doctors who are internationally known for their medical skills in the operating room, but act ignorant and uncouth in other situations. Learn to become comfortable in a wide variety of circumstances and your chances of success are greatly improved.
At a board meeting, a formal dinner party, a local football game, or church, in a casual social situation, or on a business trip, does your behavior reflect the level of success you’re working toward? And please don’t think the value of perception is the ability to hide the fact that, in reality, you are unethical or dishonest. Ethical and moral behavior matters. It creates trust, loyalty, and integrity, and when damaged, reputations are tough and often impossible to rebuild.
Everything communicates. – —Brad Abare, branding and organizational consultant
Start today recognizing opportunities to jolt your perception in the eyes of your superiors, your customers, and your associates. A business genius who neglects the value of perception risks appearing to others as simply average, or worse, a fool. On the other hand, even a relative novice in business and leadership skills can dramatically improve his standing among his associates through an investment in the art of perception.
Who you are is important—but you can never underestimate the impact of how you are perceived.