Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Your audience awaits

Voice, style, presentation, mannerisms.  These are some of many aspects that make us, us, right?  But what if we're tossed into situations where our own voice or style may not be appropriate?  In non-work situations, I'd say to heck with it.  It's usually not a big deal. But work is not so's our livelihood, for crying out loud, and I, for one, cannot afford to lose professional points for the sake of stubbornness.

This is not about conforming or bowing down to "the man" or "the woman" (as it so often is). It's about putting your best foot forward and learning to thrive in various situations.  Here is a sampling of situations and some ways to work through them.

Situation: You're required to be at a presentation (or other public event) for work. Your audience is execs (read: people in suits).
Internal Conflict: You absolutely hate suits and may not even own one.
Adjustment: Try a colorful or patterned blazer with a classic pencil skirt or trouser pant in a complementary solid for a suit separates look. Add interesting shoes and subtle accessories to create your own look (although large fabric flowers or cocktail rings may be over the top).  If you end up getting a suit and don't want it to be a yawn, try a colorful, ruffled, or otherwise textured top and definitely go with a colorful shoe.

Situation: Your boss asks you to ghostwrite an op-ed piece that will run under an exec's name.
Internal Conflict: Your metaphors lean towards Manolos, but your exec is more prone to man-sandals (or "mandals").
Adjustment: Read what the exec has written in the past (even if those pieces were also ghostwritten, at least you'll have an idea of what their public persona is like).  Identify any similarities between their voice and yours, and take it from there.  Another (silly but sometimes effective) tip: literally pretend you're the individual and start talking about the subject. It's much easier to take on someone's voice when speaking than when writing, and help you catch the right style.

Situation: You've spent hours laying out a flier -- resizing images, tweaking text and headlines -- only to hear that you haven't quite caught "the essence" of the topic.
Internal Conflict: The design is solid, and you know it.
Adjustment: While you may have followed all the basic principles, settling on a design is like choosing a perfume -- it smells different on everyone, notes change throughout the day (so sit on it), and you may end up needing more than one.  While, yes, preferences are always going to be different, sometimes it helps to start anew with a fresh eye (keep a copy saved of your original design in case it does come back to that) and see if other ideas have merit before you discredit them entirely.

One thing to remember: adjusting your voice or style for a particular audience doesn't make you any less you.  But the ability to adapt quickly to changing situations or audiences can make you stand out in a sea of otherwise-similarly-qualified individuals.

Of course, there are times at work when you can really make your voice heard and revel in your individualism. 
  • Proposing new ideas
  • Taking the lead on a project or initiative
  • Vocalizing an opinion that will help a project (constructive criticism counts)
  • Daily fashion (within office dress code parameters, of course)
  • Professional correspondence (just because email is delivered via computer or other device doesn't mean you have to sound like a robot)
  • Designing a presentation that is completely by you (not by you as a representative of another entity)

So let your personality shine bright and let your voice be heard, but remember that versatility and adaptability are valuable professional traits that shouldn't be ignored.

Have you ever run into a situation where you were pressured to adjust to something you didn't feel was "you"?  What did you do and what was the result?

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