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How Personal Branding Impacts First Impressions

You can break the rules, but only when you fully understand them, in which case you may choose not to but rather harness them’   

Janine Carley-James

I first met him in the lift.  I was attending a meeting with one of the senior executives, the creative brain behind the company.  I knew he was intelligent, artistic and had achieved a lot. I was excited to meet him.  I was going to be addressing how to promote professionalism within the company.  It wasn’t public knowledge yet.  I took a quick glance at the man next to me.  I wanted to form a quick impression.  He was relaxed, pressed against the corner in a casual slouch.  

He had good quality clothing.  Not quite fitted, a little wrinkled.  His hair was a little messy but well cut.  He looked as though he hadn’t shaved.  Probably a bit tired, I thought, high enough up in the company to buy some good clothing, but not yet a mover and shaker.  He smiled at me.  I smiled back.  I didn't want to be intrusive.  I wanted to give some tips to top management on how to assist the staff, and I now had some topics to work on.  We would be getting off at the same floor.

“Where are you going?” He asked me.  

“I’m going to the 12th floor to meet Jordan Davis.”

“Janine? Eleven o’clock?”  He was surprised. “You’re on time!  I’m Jordan!” He held out his hand!

I knew at that moment where I was going to begin.  Excellent presentation starts at the top.

Presentation is a great skill, a message professionals have used to show status.  Great presentation is used by those who both aspire to success and those that have achieved it.  It is the greatest visual statement of achievement.  So much so that charlatans have used self-presentation to create an appearance of capability and success, and criminals disguise themselves by looking mild and conservative.  We make automatic assumptions based on appearance.

When it comes to presentation, it is worth looking at yourself, your work and the emails you send as though you have never seen them before. What fits in with your current position?  What doesn't work?  If you find anything that doesn't make you look good (nor the brand you represent), then it is time to make changes. Like most things in life, we often establish what we do by accident.  A series of moves may place us in leadership roles.  It is often the result of our passions, ambitions and good intentions. Some will benefit us, others will not.  It is always worth reflecting on what does not. 

It is not only we who are changed by a series of events but the workplace too.  Both radicalism and a technological era have brought great changes.  In a technological world, we are often respected for our expert knowledge.  Companies headhunt skilled people as part of a brand.  ‘Brand You' means investing in yourself as a source of knowledge.  Nuanced attention to detail will set you apart.  To invest in your brand means investing in the fine points, in the finesse and the polish, the authority and the trust.  

Investing in your brand is not about purchasing the right brand of designer clothing. It is about creating an innate power which transcends products, care, insecurity and even aesthetics.  It is about continuity – the passing of the banner from one professional to another, so that those most capable will build a company or brand, and they will do it well.  Presentation takes on a life of its own.  

We may think we can bend our appearance to our own will.  We might say that we don't care, that we will rebel against social norms and set our own style.  We can wear our clothes with irony, as the company director I met did.  We can rebel against proper grammar.  Social institutions may change, but the norms which have maintained them have persevered for hundreds of years.  We cannot define social context.  It defines us.  It determines what we can become.  By mastering the art of self-presentation, we learn the dark arts which take us where we want to go.  

Learning to negotiate the hidden culture is the secret to success. It is naive to think we are so important that we can rewrite culture.  Whenever you look at images of success, you'll see polish and sophistication.  We are not merely singular beings but part of a collective. If there were only one thing in the world you could do right now to improve yourself, choose to invest in your own sense of style.  Not simply in your clothing choices but in every aspect of your presentation.  Invest in Brand You.  Your strength comes from joining the collective, negotiating your own path to knowledge and the power of presentation.