When Should You Judge a Book By Its Cover?

When I was first setting out on my own as a consultant and entrepreneur after grad school, I had a big pitch to make for a prospective client. I wanted to make a good impression, so – among other things – I went to a store in south Philadelphia and bought a big new purse to carry my laptop.



But it wasn't just any purse – it was an imitation Coach handbag. The original probably retailed around $300; I paid $30 for the knockoff, and hoped it would help me look successful.



When I got to the interview, I put it on a chair next to me at the conference table and did my pitch for the team. They then described to me how the three key women traveled to different client sites around the country together, and after the trainings were complete, they'd often go to dinner, sometimes get mani/pedis, or hit outlets for some good bargain shopping.



“Do you like to shop?” One asked me.



Her colleague jumped right in: “Girl, of course she likes to shop, look at the bag!”



I was in – primarily because I was the right candidate professionally, but it didn't hurt that I also looked like I'd be a good cultural fit.



We all like to tell ourselves that we're above judging people on their appearance, and we know we shouldn't judge a book by its cover. But it's not about whether or not we should. The simple fact is that we do — it's a part of human nature.


The real question is whether or not we let ourselves make decisions based on that first impulsive evaluation.



That's why it's so important to know your audience, your industry, your objectives, and the broader context for each engagement – so you can “play to your audience” as the saying goes, and make sure that your appearance is still stylistically authentic to you, but appropriate to the context in a way that, at a bare minimum, won't distract or otherwise negatively bias your audience against you.



In my book Speaking to Influence: Mastering Your Leadership Voice, I talk about the messaging channels in speech, a.k.a the Three V's: Verbal, Vocal, and Visual communication. The way you groom or dress is just as important as your facial expressions and body language as components of the third or “Visual” channel.



Why? Because people make their first judgments about you from that first visual impression, long before you even have a chance to say “hello.” (Then, of course, when you speak, you will either prove their first impression to be right, or to be wrong, for better or for worse!)



Nobody knows that better than my guest this week on Speaking to Influence , a pioneer in the industry as one of the very first certified image consultants in all of India, Sonia Dubey Dewan, Founder of the Indian School of Image Management.





In this episode, Sonia talks about why it's important to learn about how to create your image, and how she's helping people around the world master the “ABCs of Image Consulting”: Appearance, Behavior, and Communication.



But even more importantly, Sonia has built an incredible program that is not just about her clients' (students') external looks, but also what internal transformation they need to undergo as well.



Specifically, once they understand the art and science of image consulting itself, she then teaches them all to be skilled entrepreneurs, (what she calls “an MBA on steroids”) so that they can take control of their own destiny as a successful business owner.



Listen in we discuss the needs of online training today, managing assertiveness throughout cultural expectations, initiating your own personal transformation, and being your own trainer.



Listen to the full episode here or watch it on YouTube . here