From the time I started school, until after I left the Air Force, I spent little time considering my wardrobe or the message it sent. I almost always wore a uniform. I didn’t have to think about what to put on until my first interview for a corporate job.
I wore a fuchsia blazer, black dress pants and combat boots. I was lucky. I was hired because I could do the job, but I learned that day that combat boots, no matter how well polished, aren’t always appropriate with a pantsuit. I also learned that regardless of your ability, you won’t get far without a good first impression.
It takes just one-tenth of a second to be sized up on a first encounter. When I wore a uniform, people knew who I was. Once I was out of uniform, I no longer gave strangers a clear message.
Philosophically speaking, everyone wears a “uniform.” Your clothes, grooming habits, facial expressions, how you stand, sit or walk are all nonverbal cues that tell others what to expect. Before you even say a word, you’re broadcasting information about yourself, so it makes sense to get it right.
Event planners are industry leaders and should present themselves as such. They should convey warmth and competence. We want our clients to trust us and our suppliers to respect us. And we have to do it in a blink of an eye.
Obviously, there is no standard dress code in the events industry, and you may change your style according to the event and venue. People trust those who are similar to them.
You want to assure your client that you can represent their brand, so it’s often necessary to be chameleon-like. This doesn’t mean your closet should resemble a costume shop. Just dress appropriately for the client and the occasion.
This means using common sense. Don’t wear haute couture and stilettos to meet with a group of Mennonites. Pay attention to what your client likely will wear and dress similarly.
Do’s and don’ts
Creating a successful event is all about the minutiae. Take time to assess yourself from top to bottom and look like a professional. Your clothes need not be expensive or name brand, but they should be clean and free of wrinkles. Don’t overdo the perfume. Don’t smell like cigarette smoke. Get a manicure and regular haircuts. Keep your shoes in good condition, with no scuffs or tears. You want your client to know that you pay attention to details and can handle whatever comes your way.
Body language is among the most important and underrated forms of communication. Psychologists have long studied how to create a rapid, effective rapport, including nonverbal behaviors that help you develop an immediate trust. Being aware of the message you send subconsciously can be the difference in making a strong first impression.
Smile. Maintain eye contact about 60 percent of the time. Relax and lean slightly toward your client to indicate listening and, if appropriate, mirror their body language. Don’t cross your arms in front of your body. Try to match your speech patterns to the other person.
There are excellent articles and studies online that can help you learn these and other secrets. I encourage both those new to the industry and seasoned planners to get comfortable with these ideas. With a little practice, communicating your trustworthiness and competence can be done quickly. Once you’ve done that, the world is yours.