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Etiquette & Professional Branding Workshop with Patricia Cook: Our Takeaways

By Amy Chen and Ramya Gandhi

As students immersed in a constant stream of opportunities and taking our first steps into the professional world, we are in a highly visible time. From first impressions to internship applications, the newly emerging virtual world has created unique challenges and opportunities for students. In her workshop “Etiquette & Professional Branding,” Patricia Cook dove into the many aspects that influence impressions, influence, and presence. Through the presentation of scientifically-backed evidence, anecdotal examples, and engaging activities, Cook helped us all take a deeper look at ourselves and determine how to elevate our impact from any seat. 

Cook has extensive experience in a variety of fields. As a graduate from University of Michigan’s business school, she is a former banker, recruiter, and hiring manager. Currently, Cook is running her own business that shows others how to optimize their brand – she frequently speaks with  universities, banks, the Big Four, and now students like us. In her introduction, Cook began with an incredibly impactful fact: it takes people 4-7 seconds to form an opinion on you regarding professionalism, credibility, and sophistication. In up to 23-30 seconds, someone can make another 8-9 judgements in relation to aspects like trustworthiness and marital, economic, and social status. She explored these facts deeper, noting that these impressions are 55% based on appearance, and then on how you deliver your message. Surprisingly, Cook explained that a very small portion of the impression is reliant on the content of what you say. These impressions made in the first seconds of meeting someone are incredibly influential and hard to change – as Cook stated, a first impression can take seconds to make and years to change. In fact, Cook explained that, in the business world, for every one mistake made, it takes 8-12 positive interactions to offset it and even more if it is a severe negative. This is why our initial impressions – both virtual and in real life – are vital. 

As many of us have learned, our first impressions are usually limited to a short “elevator pitch” in which we cram as much information about ourselves into the small amount of time that we hold a recruiter’s attention. Cook emphasized how important these professional brand introductions are and gave several tips to better take advantage of these opportunities. In summary, a winning introduction is one where you give your full name, hold eye contact, and offer your role and a conversation starter. Specifically for students, a great example for elevator pitch was 2-5 sentences encompassing your full name, major, and year and then who you are, what you’ve done, what you hope to do. Cook had participants run through an elevator pitch activity, where we were able to practice and critique one another, which was a great way to cement these tips and improvements. Further, a tip many of us were unaware of was showing respect by standing up to greet your superiors. Cook emphasized the impact such a menial act such as standing when someone enters the room can leave a lasting, stand-out impression of respect and confidence. This was a common theme throughout Cook’s workshop, where the idea of putting effort and conscientiousness into the details of our interactions can be the difference between being forgettable versus standing out. 

Elaborating upon conscientiousness, Cook stressed the importance of names. Before the official workshop began, Cook demonstrated her dedication to learning and remembering names by asking everyone for their full names. She then made the effort of always repeating the names back and often writing down the phonetic pronunciation down in front of her. She went on to explain that in the same way that dopamine and oxytocin – the hormones that promote trust, bonding, and likeability – are released when you shake someone’s hand or make eye contact, when you say someone’s name their brain lights up chemically. Using someone’s name also boosts their perception of you, making you look and sound more self-confident. Thus, Cook encourages us to make the effort to stand out by hearing, writing, and saying people’s names, and specifically memorizing the names of the support staff. Knowing and using the names of the support staff – such as waiters, janitorial staff, and secretaries – demonstrates that you care about and respect the people around you. This practice of using people’s names heavily relies on the idea of building your credibility and likeability and Cook recommends starting with names and ending on a positive note. However, one thing to be wary of is the tendency to “upspeak.” As younger individuals, often nervous and going through many introductions, we often end out sentences on a higher pitch or inflection. Cook pointed this out and explained the negative impacts of upspeak in excess as it can often lower how listener’s perceive your credibility and confidence. While the occasional inflection is fine as it allows a smile to come through and signals to others that you are still speaking, Cook prompted us to try ending on a level or lower pitch. 

To continue, while introductions and name usage are important in creating these first impressions, Cook elaborates upon how we can best build upon these first interactions. Beyond the first meeting, it is essential for us to build a network. All the tips given on how to make a good first impression would all be useless if we were unable to develop the relationship and make it productive. Coming from Harvard’s Carnegie foundation, 85% of your job success comes from your people skills. Only 15% comes from technical skills and knowledge. Thus, Cook offers an outlined process of interactions, starting with an impression and several follow ups. She explains that by sending thank you notes, follow up emails, and scheduled catch-ups, we are able to meet the three to five interactions necessary to cement a relationship and make it productive. These gestures are especially integral to making a lasting impression and meaningful relationship in a virtual environment.

Due to the pandemic, many students and workers were forced into an online setting. As we grew comfortable taking calls from home and interviewing in sweats, often we joined zoom calls and left our camera’s off. Even when our cameras were on, eye contact with a screen is not something many of us think about. Cook zeroed in on the importance of eye contact in order to engage the person you are meeting with and make them feel important and listened to. If necessary, it is better to look into the camera than at yourself to create this feeling! Even in a virtual world, your appearance is paramount, and for this reason Cook explains that it is key to keep your background clean and professional. Small details like using a nice cup and pen were included in creating this presence. Keeping your top half dressed for success, being responsive and in the moment, and over communicating are in the toolboxes of any successful professional navigating a virtual space. Even in a virtual setting, Cook highlighted the importance of body language, as the majority of in-person communication is non-verbal. When we are in-person, standing straight, respecting personal space, and holding eye contact are paramount to demonstrating confidence and credibility. However, when limited to a screen recording our shoulders up, students often allow slack in posture and behavior. Cook offered the alternative of instead sitting on the edge of one’s seat, leaning forward to demonstrate engagement, and resting your arms on the chair’s armrest. Prior to the meetings, Cook encourages expansive, power posing to calm down and boost the likelihood that you come across as self-confident. These changes can make all the difference, as even in a video call we have learned that body language speaks volumes. 

When sharing these one-on-one interactions, Cook noted some behaviors that are scientifically-proven to assist relationship-building. A red flag many professionals notice is people who gossip or talk down on other people. By the principle of spontaneous trait transference, the things one says about other people are a direct reflection of one’s own character. Keeping conversation focused on the people present and relevant topics is the safest way to go in terms of small talk, as Cook explained. Things we can do to ensure positive relationships are remembering Lombardi Time: being 15 minutes early to all of your meetings. Having this extra time gives you the opportunity to make the impressions touched on earlier, as well as getting better seats, and asking questions before the majority of people try to. Finally, we learned about limbic synchrony. When done subtly, the act of mirroring your peers’ movement is empathetic and proven to establish connections and rapport between people. You will know it is working, when your peer mirrors you back. 

As students and young professionals, there is a lot to learn about personal and professional branding. While we are constantly learning and integrating tips to better ourselves, Cook presents the most important idea of empathetic listening. While there are a plethora of tips and tricks to develop ourselves – it is unlikely that we will master them all overnight. However, what is most important is that we learn to listen. Cook explains that while we mostly listen in order to respond, the charisma of presence can mean more than anything. By learning to listen, pay attention, and focus, we can better relax, react authentically, and stay in the moment. This results in us showing respect, validating others, and ultimately enjoying ourselves; empathetic listening is contagious – if you are present with people they’ll be present with you. The entirety of Cook’s valuable workshop would result in null impact if we did not focus energy on wanting to improve and listen. It is this drive that makes a successful leader and learner, someone we can all become through constantly listening empathetically, and applying what we learn toward the continuous development of our professional brand. 

Amy Chen
Amy is a Sophomore in T&M Class XXVII. She is studying Information Systems and Strategic Business Development and is an Emerging Technology Intern at Synchrony.
Ramya Gandhi
Ramya is a member of Class XXVII and a sophomore studying Systems Engineering and Design. She is an incoming intern at American Energy Technologies.

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