"Holy smoke!" she blurted out.
It's rare that a classroom PowerPoint elicits the same reaction as a David Copperfield illusion. But to Conner's eyes, the images on the screen reflected nothing short of magic.
Through simple changes in wardrobe, makeup and hairstyle, instructor Lisa Maile had transformed a middle-age woman from frumpy to fabulous -- and eminently more marketable to potential employers, the visiting guru told Conner and 25 other students attending a style and image workshop recently.
The former owner of a Winter Park modeling agency and now an image consultant, Maile is the smiling face of grim reality in a society obsessed with surface appearance.
Maile doesn't believe beauty is skin deep – "I think first impressions are terrible" – but experience tells her that "we think and remember in terms of what we see." She is preparing students for a world in which "what you look like and how you present yourself are your visual resume. The best qualified person rarely is hired. The person who best sells herself gets the job."
Maile talked about the importance of rehearsing your interview pitch and gave tips on lint rollers, teeth whiteners and healthful homemade snacks. But those were footnotes to her major text.
She laid out for students the starkly visual composition of the all-important first impression: 10 percent words, 20-25 percent voice, and 65-70 percent image and body language.
First impressions may be terribly unfair, but Maile makes a striking one. Model-slim in a black skirt and pumps, royal blue jacket, deep red lipstick and black-rimmed glasses framing short blonde hair, the 57-year-old looked nowhere near her age as she paced kinetically, holding the floor and the students' attention for three hours without a hiccup or break.
She sprinkled her relentlessly informative and entertaining one-woman show with aphorisms:
"You want your clothes to announce that you're a winner."
"Don't go shopping when you're depressed."
"Why look average when you don't have to?"
"What you look like is your employer's reputation."
Maile was blunt – and funny – in her more extended pieces of advice for job seekers:
"You can get dressed in the morning so you don't get arrested, or you can get dressed and feel like Superman ready to go out and save the world."
"For an interview, never show cleavage – it's the kiss of death. You are selling your brain."
"Your movements should be deliberate. The slower your movements, the more confident you seem."
To illustrate the point Maile showed humorous video of President Obama and Mitt Romney fidgeting and seeming distinctly unconfident in interviews – Obama from a sit-down on "The View" when he kept shifting and tugging at his pants under the gaze of the ladies; Romney looking perturbed and crossing his legs like swords when asked a question he didn't like in a one-on-one interview with a reporter.
There were a few men in the seminar. One asked Maile what tie he could wear with a red shirt.