Know Your Audience

Vector-of-a-cartoon-woman-staring-vainly-in-a-mirror-outlined-coloring-page-by-ron-leishman-19915I have been thinking about the importance of knowing your audience not only in regards to who you are selling to, who you believe you are building a business for (besides yourself) and who are you talking to.

A few years back I was just beginning to know a company and the woman behind it.  An impressive entrepreneur.  She was just starting to raise money and I jumped in and with that became a mentor.  She was going to pitch her deal to a large audience which not surprising consisted of mostly men.  I asked her what she planned on wearing.  The answer was a black suit.  My advice, know your audience.  This is a tech crowd, nobody wears a suit.  What she needed to wear was a pair of jeans or basic pants with a great shirt and jacket.  Simple yet chic bold yet cool.  No need for a lot of make-up and look at ease.

She killed the pitch and after that she noted that wearing a black suit would have been a disaster.  After all, the first impression you make is the moment you just walk on stage or walk in a room.  No matter what comes out of your mouth if you are not looking the part the message is not as strong.  Hate to say it but particularly for a woman.

I had a breakfast with a woman a few months back and the entire time we talked she kept playing with hair.  Pushing her bangs back, putting her hair back and then taking it down, fingers through the hair, etc.  I have seen men do the same thing and it is utterly distracting.  I should have said something but I didn't.  I was sitting with one of the smartest young women I know and all I kept thinking about was her hair.  Was she insecure?  What was the deal here? 

I have had men come pitch me in suits and I have said if there is any advice you can take away from me if you want to pitch more people in the tech industry, kill the suit.  Now if you plan on talking to bankers and private equity people more than likely the jeans and jacket are a no-no but a suit is just perfect. 

There have been conversations I have read on listservs that discuss the importance of how to dress at a conference or on stage or going to a meeting.  Many women would have the reaction that it isn't the way they dress that makes the impression it is the person and they like wearing tight dresses and mini-skirts or perhaps super high heels and loads of make-up or even dressing super down in a hippy-like way.  My answer to that is go for it in your personal life but do not go for that when you are in a professional setting because it just doesn't work. 

I dress every day with the thought in my mind of who I will see that day.  On the weekends you can sometimes catch me in sweat pants doing my grocery shopping or raggy jeans and an oversized sweater but when it comes to business, business is business and so is business attire, make-up, hair and a no matter where you are a good solid look them in the eye handshake. 

Comments (Archived):

  1. Ella Dyer

    Good advice, all the way around. And for folks who think the out appearance shouldn’t matter; I like to say hm, when was the last time you planted weeds and not flowers?

  2. AMT Editorial Staff

    As a Georgetown U alum, I interview applicants. I never shy away from giving high-schoolers very direct feedback. I have told several candidates that they need to stop fidgeting, playing with hear, rolling a piece of paper, wearing Goth earrings…I do it at the end. I tell them that my objective is to help them. Feedback that is honest is a gift.

    1. Gotham Gal

      feedback is a huge a gift.

  3. panterosa,

    Know the envelope of who you are and how it overlaps with the envelope of where you are. That’s the fit you need to find where you can be yourself.As an artist/designer, I have colored hair, and mostly wear a lot of color. I adjust my palette on the mood of the event, and I’ve never owned a suit, but I’m not sure I blend everywhere.

  4. Angela Moulton

    At a big pharmaceutical company, everyone would be in suits except the big investors on the board. They would show up in jeans and cowboy boots. It’s all about protocol and knowing your place.

  5. Fempreneur

    Yes to contextually appropriate dressing.I still cannot get over the appearance of a couple of female reporters at techcrunch last year. Dressed like one might be if going to nightclubs in partly-hip-mostly-skank mode. Jaw dropped on learning that they were apparently staff at one of the popular tech news sites.

  6. JLM

    .Hmmm, as a guy — apparently a clueless guy — I could not have cared less. Of course I am a bit older than the crowd you are describing.I would have liked the suit but I am the first to admit I am wrong.It is really inconsequential to me and in some ways it is the equality of the situation. I don’t want women to have to dress for my eyes.Dress for success.JLM.

    1. Gotham Gal

      that is the point. dress for success

  7. pointsnfigures

    shared. great advice for men too.

  8. LE

    “if you want to pitch more people in the tech industry, kill the suit. “Have you ever been on vacation and out to lunch during the weekday and the people at the other tables are dressed up in suits? To me that’s a total buzz kill to the moment.I don’t have in person meetings that much but when I do I try to emphasize that I really prefer super casual dress.Knowing your audience and preparation is key as you say. If you are pitching in the tech industry and you don’t know things are casual you haven’t done your homework.As an aside I got my first big order in business (early 80’s) going up against Xerox professional sales people (in 3 piece suits) dressed in a down vest and dungarees. Back then nobody dressed like that (and it wasn’t tech).Why did this work for me (in that situation?). It was an example of the contrast principle. The people that I met with were immediately taken back by the way I dressed. But when they heard what came out of my mouth I got extra points because it’s not what they expected from someone dressed that way. I’ve used that same thing from time to time. It makes people put their guard down and lower their expectations.

    1. Gotham Gal

      I love that story

      1. LE

        Geez do I have stories.Then they wanted to inspect my place of business but it was only me.So I got some friends and literally people off the street to come in an pretend to be employees doing things on the few old machines that I had at the place. It was staged.I not only got the contract but I kept it for 6 years (the hospital chain filed for bankruptcy). I also ended up getting quite a bit of business from Xerox. (The same division of Xerox that lost that bid.)The chance to bid came from a small ad in the yellow pages that I designed. They picked the three bidders from yellow page ads.