It’s pretty close to impossible to get all the way to your first real job without hearing the phrase, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” What people usually mean by it is look professional—like management—even if you are interviewing to be a line cook / intern / stockroom staffer. The idea is that by dressing a level or two up from what the position seems to require, you give the impression of being engaged and competent and having that little extra polish that will make you promotable someday.
I’ve never heard anyone say it about conducting business presentations, but I think the idea definitely applies: “Speak as if you have the job you aspire to.” All you have to do is listen a little to understand that speech habits are generational and that executives speak differently from junior hires. When you’re in your 20s, you are still socialized to speak like your peers. “Like,” “and stuff,” “you guys,” and uptalk are all habits attributed to millennials (and Gen-Xers like me, actually), and their use immediately marks the speaker as young. Young usually gets interpreted as inexperienced, unsophisticated, still in training, and kind of ignorable. Beyond these obvious generational markers, habits such as fidgeting, allowing sentences to run on after a thought is finished, avoiding eye contact, and not stopping to think are interpreted as indicating a green speaker and a junior employee.
I know you might be thinking, “But won’t it sound fake and weird if I get up to present and sound like Don Draper or Diane Sawyer?” Well, yes, but that’s the beauty of maturing. You get to sound like you only more confident, thoughtful, and authoritative.
Spend some time projecting ahead in your imagination. What do you expect to sound like when you have your own team to manage? When you move from a cube to an office? When your title starts with Senior or Chief or Principal? You know who you want to become in your work life. If you manage your habits, create your presentation materials, and adjust your internal monologue to be that person now, the potential for you to become that person—with all its perks and responsibilities—will be much more evident to those who determine your work future.
As you put together your slides, as you run through them for clarity and concision, be that person. You’ll be surprised at how many of your “junior” habits fall by the wayside and how quickly and easily you grow yourself up to be an excellent speaker—and still be yourself. Indeed, it’s kind of the Turpin tagline: “Find your focus” (decide who/how you want to be as you move forward in your career), “Be yourself” (not some fake uber-adult so you end up sounding like Ron Burgundy), “Only better” (the junior employee with senior potential, the kid who stands out in the crowd, and the one they can put in front of key clients).
Barbara Egel is an experienced trainer and presenter who has worked in a variety of fields from qualitative consumer research to children’s multimedia publishing. In each of her roles, Barbara has specialized in helping people get comfortable in situations that, at least at first, are uncomfortable. This includes helping fiction writers get comfortable with writing code, and enabling marketers and product developers to talk directly with their customers. Most recently, Barbara was Vice President at Primary Insights, Inc., a boutique qualitative research consultancy. At Turpin Communication, Barbara is a workshop coach and account manager and was the developmental editor of "The Orderly Conversation." She has degrees from the University of Illinois and Northwestern University.