She shows you how to walk your talk–quite literally

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DELBY Bragais: More than a stylist, the image consultant acts as a conscience.
PHOTO BY NELSON MATAWARAN

A politician is seeking respectability and popularity. A marketing executive wants to impress clients. A supervisor is eyeing a promotion while a fresh graduate wants to establish herself in her new job.

More and more companies and individuals are hiring image consultants, who help them project an impeccably professional presence.

Untidiness and talking with your mouth full over a business lunch are serious professional offenses. To stay away from such embarrassment, companies are seeking coaching in the art of clothing, poise, good grooming, etiquette, behavior and communication.

Fashion designer-turned-image consultant Delby Bragais explains, “The guidance covers everything from how you look to civility in the workplace.”

The image consultant is not just a glorified stylist but more of a coach who has a transformative effect on the client’s professional character. Bragais not only overhauls the manner of dressing but also the posture, speech, attitude and behavior.   The certifying organization, Association of Image Consultants International (AICI), has placed her as one of the nine Certified Image Masters in the world.

Impact of appearance

Undoubtedly, appearance plays a role in making the first and last impression. In her corporate training session, Bragais points out that the Professional Polish: Skin-care and Makeup is the most appreciated module.

Like the legendary Pygmalion giving life to Galatea, Bragais has seen the transformation of plain Janes to polished professionals.

“This is important when the products they market are in high-price categories or they entail a long-term commitment to financial resources from investors or buyers.”

Wardrobe editing is popular among individual clients. In an image make-over session, the clients bring out three outfits for work and three outfits for special occasions and their accessories. Bragais evaluates and recommends styles, colors and silhouettes that flatter their looks and reflect their personality and support their professional goals.

“Wearing appropriate working attire sends the subtle signal that you put care and attention to details. When you conduct business, you also make the effort to make things work well,” she says.

Bragais cites the example of a top lady executive in an insurance company who used to wear sexy clothes to work, “Her credibility was diminished.  Provocative dressing draws attention away from the business.”

Different fields require different dress codes. In creative industries such as advertising, events management, fashion, the dress codes are more relaxed. “On the entry level, shirts with collars and khakis for men and short-sleeved, button-down shirts or blouses for ladies with coordinating tapered skirts,” says Bragais.

In traditional industries, Bragais advises employees to check with the company’s human resources department. Here’s the formula:

Entry-level professional: Shirt with a collar tucked into coordinating pants and belt for men. A short-sleeved top with a collar and a tapered skirt or slacks for women.

Supervisor: Long-sleeved shirt and wool or wool-blended pants for men and a coordinating sports coat for changes in temperature.  A tie is an option. A short-sleeved barong with dark colored, lightweight wool pants is an alternative.

Manager: The dark business suit of high quality wool or wool blend, a neatly pressed shirt and tie are a must. The white or off-white long-sleeved barong is considered more formal than other colors. For women, a business suit with pants or skirt in a medium or dark color is appropriate.

However, the individual’s personality should come out as one rises above the ranks.

What you say and don’t

Some corporations send their employees to professional image consultants, who often work on communication skills more   than appearance.

“Many Filipinos don’t have the confidence to express themselves,” Bragais observes. “In business, the first five seconds make an impact. You can use the power of image and communication to get the business and the relationships you want.”

Other clients are concerned about non-verbal communication. An amiable facial expression is the best calling card while unnecessary movements such as twirling the hair are distracting, she says.

In a corporate training program for top-level executives, Bragais conducted an on-the-spot Image Audit where participants got to know how others perceived them. “Very few people will give an honest feedback to a top-level manager,” she observes.

One female boss was surprised to learn that her body language communicated aloofness or disinterest in others.

“For someone in sales, even with the expertise in product knowledge or technical skills, this negative body language could be the reason you could not realize your optimal sales potential,” says Bragais.

After the workshop, the executive made the effort to be more approachable and engaging. “This is very helpful in nurturing relationships which is vital in the business world,” says Bragais.

Since Filipinos enjoy good food and bring their business to the dining table, Bragais says knowledge of table manners should be de rigueur for executives, aspirants and start-up entrepreneurs.

“It’s not as much as food as it is about business. For corporations, you want your top executives to have the skills in taking the helm smoothly on the dining table.

Hence, they can concentrate on the subject instead of getting rattled by the sight of three forks on the table or which bread plate to get the dinner roll from. It boils down to being considerate of others,” says Bragais.

“In business, it’s all about perception. Sharing a meal gives others a glimpse of how confident you are in navigating the table. This translates to how you will be doing business with them. Dining in business is all about nurturing relationships for revenues.”

Bragais was once invited to lunch by a businessman for a possible venture. On their first meeting, he showed her to her seat and then he started talking about himself, albeit to establish his credibility.  He then offered to sell her a product worth P25,000 plus monthly continuous investments of P10,000.

“What struck me was that all the while, he never offered me a cup of coffee. After the first five minutes, I was turned off but I remained polite,” recalls Bragais.  Despite the great product, she did not buy it.

“All this person wanted to do was make a sale. He was inconsiderate and all he thought of was himself.” The meeting left a negative impression: If Bragais had acquired the product and had problems with it; she could not rely on him or the service in the future.

Consistency

Bragais underscores that the vision and image of an individual or a professional should harmonize with the ABC’s (appearance, behavior and communication) of image.

Walt Disney Attractions takes image consulting to heart with its own image-making division. Disneyland is a model of this consistency in ABC. The tagline “the happiest place on earth” suggests that the brand is wholesome, family-oriented, happy and service-oriented. The employees in all the theme parks are pleasant and accommodating.

“There is consistency and brand alignment with the corporate image and in their verbal and non-verbal communications,” she says.

More often, the polarity between vision and execution is common. Bragais says the fact that the man who tried to sell her a product, boasted about his accomplishments yet ironically couldn’t offer her a cup of coffee was a turnoff.

She cites the example of a speaker on wealth and investment who wears cheap clothes in front of an audience of high net-worth individuals and potential investors.

“The impression is that he is not in a position to dispense financial advice. From his looks, he needs it more than others.”

This is inconsistency. Speakers and religious authorities lecture on virtues such as love and trust, yet their behavior doesn’t manifest those qualities.

On professional effectiveness, Bragais has done programs that help managers to convey their ideas and effectively influence others. “It’s not that you have a higher position and you order someone to do this. You have to learn how to influence the corporate matrix,” she says.

When people seek an image makeover, she advises: “First, know where you want to go. Think strategically. Second, take a hard and honest look at yourself and see which areas need improving from relationships to appearance, behavior and communication. Last, do it now.”

To find the right image consultant, seek out practitioners who belong to the Philippine Image Consultant, the members of which are affiliated with the AICI, says Bragais.  Get references, look at the portfolio and weigh up the consultant’s own image.

(For details, contact delby@imagedesignersinternational.com.)

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