The business world is becoming increasingly more casual; it’s obvious by the way professionals dress for work. Shorts in the workplace and jeans every day are slowly becoming acceptable, but casual is not a good thing when it comes to other aspects of your business, including casual presentations. Why is the “casual” mentality so appealing?
- It’s easy. It’s the most simple thing your overworked mind can do is not think. The casual, laid-back approach to attire is one aspect you won’t need to stress over because you believe it doesn’t matter.
- It’s comfortable. Wearing “normal” clothes like jeans is more comfortable over the stuffy feeling of traditional business attire.
- It’s relaxed. Much like when you are comfy at home or cozy on vacation, everything slows down. The same holds true for casual at the office, all of a sudden the office is not fast paced and timely. The casual office atmosphere slows to something that is calm and manageable, a place that a person can stand.
The new casual attitude is carrying over to other aspects of business and professionalism as well. One of the biggest affected areas by the casual change is with preparation. Presentations directly suffer in particular because not enough effort is put forth to represent an individual or a company properly.
I define a presentation as any time you are speaking with a person outside of your colleagues where you are representing your company. Under this definition, your prospect meetings, client meetings, and phone calls as well as any time you are a vendor at a trade show or a networking meeting, count as presentations.
Presentations have swayed from being overly stuffy to very casual, and the mindset has changed also. Now, presentations are thought as “it’s not a big deal, it is just a casual presentation” so we can “wing it.” Regardless, you need to make sure you don’t fall into the Casual Trap.
- Attitude. Just because the attire is casual, or the atmosphere is casual, doesn’t mean you should avoid preparation. The word “casual” doesn’t apply to how much effort you put into representing your company.
- Dress for Success. The motto holds true that appearance reflects credibility and reliability to get a job done. If a professional looks like a slob for casual wear every day, then that individual can’t possibly look like the person for the job. Don’t be swayed by their dress either – Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg may be known for wearing a hoodie, but he is still all business. (He fights to overcome the stigma the hoodie gives him too.)
- Be Prepared. Even if you can have a more conversation-like presentation with a smaller audience of 2-3, you should come with your A-game. Some companies even try to lure you in telling you it is a casual presentation just to see what you know. Stumbling to get the words out makes others begin to doubt your expertise. You don’t want to be caught off guard and not preparing allows you to lose control quickly.
- Punctuality. The old saying of if you’re on time, you’re already late still applies. Make sure you have time to set up, meet your audience, and get acclimated before having to present.
- Money is on the Line. Even if you’re presenting to an association or a peer group, you are representing yourself and your company. Many times, casual presentations to church groups, scouting units, and even PTA (Parent Teacher Associations) can lead to work. Don’t underestimate the people in your audience because sometimes they are looking for your expertise.
- Timely Follow Up. Much like you would follow up promptly following any formal presentation in thanking those who gave you business cards, you should do the same here. Even small audiences still need your love.
Much like in movies, when traps appear it’s best to get out or avoid them all together. The problem is that in business, you can’t. You can, however, navigate the situation, so it doesn’t become a trap and simultaneously demonstrate your best. Business happens through relationships where both parties are trustworthy; ill-preparedness is a detriment to that.
The bottom line is a casual presentations are still a presentation, prepare for it as such, so you don’t fall into the trap.
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