Ask The Experts

Career Q&A: How to look and sound more authoritative

Dear Image Guru,

I have an issue with my appearance: I look like a kindergarten teacher! If I walk around my daughter’s school compound, students will literally stop in their tracks to wish me “Good morning, teacher.” This is a problem for me, especially when it comes to convincing my clients. I own a small accounting firm, and I find that I always have to show my credentials before my clients will be convinced that I can actually do the job! Is there anything I can do to switch from looking like a kindergarten teacher to looking like a CEO?

Su Mei

Dear Su Mei,

1) Wear makeup

Makeup enhances your looks and increases your “power.” If you are well-groomed, you will automatically project a more authoritative image. So, take some time off over the weekend and attend some makeup classes! It will help you tremendously.

2) Dark suits win hands-down

Black, dark grey and dark blue are strong authoritarian colours. If you want to project an image of strength and power, wear a suit or a jacket. You need something in navy, black or grey with a pair of pants or a straight skirt. You may stray from these three colours, but keep the jacket dark. The stronger the colour, the more powerful the wearer will appear.

3) Lower your pitch

“I’ll be back,” said Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his low-pitched, deep voice. Imagine if he had said it in a shrill voice; it would have conveyed a totally different message altogether. Low-pitched, deep voices command respect and suggest leadership qualities, whereas high-pitched voices are associated with weakness and submissive behaviour. If you are the boss, then sound like a boss. Lower the pitch of your voice: People will take you more seriously.

4) Use a downward inflection

If you want something, be decisive. State, don’t ask for permission. As an example: A request to your colleague should go “I’d like to have the report by tomorrow,” and not “I’d like to have the report by tomorrow?” The difference is in how you say it; whether you speak with a downward inflection or an upward one. A downward inflection communicates authority and confidence, whereas an upward inflection portrays doubt and uncertainty.

5) Do not apologise

Rule number one in sounding authoritative: Never apologise at the beginning of the sentence. Some common lines include: “I may not be the expert in this field ...” or “I’m just giving my two cents’ worth ....” Such disclaimers devalue what you are about to say.

Wendy Lee President – MABIC (Malaysia Assoc. of Brand & Image Consultants)

Professional Image Consultant

Director of Chapter One BrandImage Institute (COBIN) –

Columnist for The Star,,

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