A pair of studies I caught up with recently (here and here) explored the very human reactions of men and women to the color red – as worn by the opposite sex. It turns out that red clothing increases the desirability of the other gender. Specifically, women find men wearing red to be “higher in status, more likely to make money, and more likely to climb the social ladder.” Men, alas, are more primitive: we simply find women wearing red to be more attractive than if they are dressed in other colors.
Apparently, put either gender in red and the lizard brains go to work. Now, I’ve posted before on first impressions, posture, and what to wear for public speakers. But what fascinated me about these studies was that the subjects were not aware of their biases toward red. In other words, the color of the clothing you wear has a primarily subliminal effect on the audience, not a conscious one. No one notices — consciously — the effect of red.
That puts your clothing into the highly important category that includes most issues of good and bad hand gestures, the sound of your voice, and how you move in relationship to the audience. These are all actions you can take that affect how your audience reacts to you – but which they are not aware of.
That makes them both potentially powerful and hard to do. Hard to do because you’re not consciously aware of them without effort either — except for this red thing. The good news, of course, is that it’s relatively easy to think consciously about your attire.
So it’s time to become an intentional speaker in a variety of ways – because if you don’t, the polyglot nature of our bodies will betray you as often as it propels you to victory. Virtually anyone who has ever spoken in public knows the experience of the little brain in our guts (yes, we have neurons there!) disabling us by sending messages of abject terror shooting up to our big brains, causing embarrassing physical symptoms that become impossible for us—and sometimes even the others in the room—to ignore: the flush on the face, the quaver in the voice, or the tremor in the hands.
An intentional speaker goes to work on the speech, not just by learning a text, or memorizing the flow of some slides, but also by becoming aware of how she shows up in person in front of the audience. Which means attire, too.
The intentional speaker starts a new, more sophisticated dialogue, not just between brain and body, but between big brain, unconscious and conscious brains, little brain, and body – with all the conscious and unconscious aspects of the self. The intentional speaker ensures that her gut is supporting her big brain and body, and the other way around. The intentional speaker gets all the systems working together to ensure that she’s operating at peak efficiency at those moments when you need to be at the top of your game.
And don’t forget the red.
Our brains are fiendishly keen on pattern recognition. If you’ve had scary or embarrassing experience in your early years standing in front of your peers and giving that book report, or that speech on Pocahontas, or that demonstration of a simple chemistry experiment, then that pattern gets tagged with strong emotions as a powerful memory, and ever afterward when you try to present you start to get the shakes.
As an intentional speaker, you have to substitute a new memory for the old one, a positive memory that will empower you to do your best rather than screw up. Start the process of installing a new memory through constant repetition now – don’t wait until you’re just about to speak. That will be too late.
And finally, put on something red and you’re ready to go.