Sometimes difficulty getting noticed comes down to something about your style that’s hard to change. So don’t change, reframe instead.

I’ve recently been working with a client on what it takes to become a major player in his company.

Past a certain point, a lot of success is managing how you’re perceived. Especially with first impressions, the first impression becomes the backdrop, and all subsequent interactions are viewed against that frame.

This has been a huge problem in my career. I’ve always looked younger than my age, and during my 20s and early 30s, I could pass for a teenager. I would walk into a conference and people would shake my hand while looking over my shoulder to find someone “important” to meet.

(Side note: women and ethnic minorities are often familiar with this dynamic.)

I tried to make up for it by wearing a suit. I looked like a teenager trying to look older by wearing a suit. It wasn’t an improvement. (Besides, I was raised in a traveling New Age polyamorous hippie commune. That shaped how I show up non-verbally. Despite having the degree, giving off “Harvard MBA” vibes, is exhausting.)

Ultimately, my breakthrough was being the speaker, rather than an attendee. People’s first impression was that I was a featured speaker, so must have something to offer. Then they would come to my session, and give that 18-year-old-looking person on stage a chance. I could establish credibility based on my topic and ideas. Being the speaker became my #1 strategy for networking at conferences.

Pay attention to your first impression. Change it, if it isn’t sending the message you want.

If you can’t change it for some reason (e.g., you were raised in a hippie commune and feel out-of-place acting like a Fortune 500 executive), abandon conventional wisdom and search for different ways to put yourself into the world.

The advanced course: take that differentiator and lean into it. It could be a powerful branding statement that could open the door to unexpected new opportunities.

A Surprising Solution to Networking Nerves

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