Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Don't Be Defensive, Be Different!

Photo by Dplanet, Creative Commons

What does smart look like? What does professional, capable, or knowledgeable look like? Apparently, from so many promo pictures of business people it looks like this:

Stock photo
Just watch the intro to the TV show Shark Tank and see how every one of the investors from the show strikes this overdone pose (can you count the number times...without turning it into a drinking game?). For some reason, when you fold your arms, you suddenly become the poster child for a brilliant, successful trust-me-because-I-know-what-I'm-doing-and-am-good-at-it businessman or businesswoman. Yet, what are we always told about body language? That folded arms is a sign of defensiveness and should especially not be used in business discussions.

Why oh why would someone who is trying to get the attention of potential clients want to send such mixed signals? More importantly, why after spending so much time, money and energy on establishing their brand, would a business person want to look like every other business person in every other promo picture? Wouldn't it make more sense to have a promo picture that captures the essence of your uniqueness and reflects your authenticity?

I don't know about you, but just like I'm tired of seeing the same old boring job interview attire, I'm also very tired of seeing the same old I-don't-know-what-else-to-do-with-my-arms photo plastered all over self-help books, sales pitch web sites, and more (it's the equivalent of country music artists getting their album cover picture made on railroad tracks!).

A few years ago I had the opportunity to work with a gentleman who was leaving the corporate world to become a life coach. He hired me to help him find the right clothing, photographer, and photos for his promo materials. His first question was, "Do I have to wear a suit and tie like I had to everyday in corporate?" My response: "No, because one you're clearly not comfortable in that kind of look, and two, if someone is going to trust you with the personal details of their life, you need to look approachable and somewhat relaxed so they can relax and open up to you." 

Also, while I had him update his glasses and shave his gray goatee, I purposely made sure the hairstylist kept the gray in his hair. "Why?" he asked. "Because," I said, "if you're going to be a life coach, you need to look like you've had some life experience!"

Finally, after hooking him up with a photographer who also had an understanding of his career goals, I helped the client go through and choose just the right photos for his promo packet. We purposely chose photos that sent the message that he is good listener who cares about his clients. A photo with his arms crossed in front of him would not have done so and instead would have just created a barrier between him and his audience/potential clients.

If you're a business person who knows it's time for some new promo photos, I encourage you to dare to be different this time around by following some of these tips:
  • Determine what your positive traits are: are you helpful, encouraging, a good listener?
  • Ask yourself what kind of body language accurately reflects those traits.
  • Figure out how to incorporate those traits in your marketing and promo materials including your wording in your content and your body language in your photos. You can do this the help of an image consultant who has an objective eye.
  • Also with the help of an image consultant, determine which clothing best matches your brand, your expertise, and your offerings. Don't try to dress how you think others want you to dress. Dress in a way that accurately reflects what you're doing. For instance, if you're a doctor who is often invited to speak to parent groups about childhood obesity, don't wear a suit and tie (come on, really, how often do you wear a suit and tie when working with patients?). Instead, wear something that shows you know what you're talking about, like perhaps your doctor's lab coat over your regular daily attire. 
So, these are some things to think about no matter what kind of message you're trying to convey in your branding. And I guarantee that now you're going to start noticing just how many cookie-cutter arm-folding photos there are out there. I challenge YOU to be different!

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