What makes people memorable?
What sets them apart?
Is it how they dress? Act? Speak?
Actually, it’s all those things. Any one of them will set you apart.
But to make a truly lasting impression, one that stays with people long after you’ve left the room, you need to combine all three elements and use them consistently.
You know people who always look good. You know people who are always on their best behavior. You know people who always speak eloquently.
But how many people do you know who do all three consistently? Probably just one or two.
What do you call them?
Elegant. Sophisticated. A class act.
That’s because the combination is so rare, it’s like spotting a unicorn. Once you meet this type of person, you never forget them. The impression is that great.
Become that person.
The one everyone remembers.
Create a character that looks, acts, and speaks well, then play the role consistently.
Yes, I realize that’s the antithesis of the “authenticity” trend. Of being yourself. Of letting it all “hang out.”
But that’s what everyone else does.
If you want to stand out, you have to do the opposite.
So envision the best version of yourself – the one who makes the money, moves in the best circles, turns heads wherever she goes, etc. – then strive to be that character every day.
You may not always succeed.
But a 50% success rate is better than a 0% success rate, and it’s much more profitable.
Let me give you a few examples:
“I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be until finally I became that person. Or he became me. Now everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.” – Cary Grant
When you think of Cary Grant, words like suave, urbane, and debonair come to mind. He was the ultimate gentleman’s gentleman, the very image of class and sophistication.
Which was about as far removed from his upbringing as it got.
Born Archibald Leech in Bristol, England to an alcoholic father and a clinically depressed mother, he was pretty much on his own from age 10, after his father had his mother committed to a mental institution, divorced her, and remarried. Archie didn’t fit in with his father’s new family; he felt more at home with the members of a local acrobatic theater troupe. He started performing with them at age 11, and finally dropped out of high school at age 16 to tour with them and get away from home. One of their tours brought them to New York City. After that show ended, Archie became part of the American vaudeville circuit, where he perfected his physical comedy and comedic timing, and blossomed into a leading man and romantic interest.
He landed in Hollywood in 1931 and signed with Paramount Pictures, who immediately demanded that he change his name to something more American-sounding. Cary Grant was born.
But not just in name.
To set himself apart from all the other good-looking actors at the time, Grant set out to establish himself as the “epitome of masculine glamour.” Using Douglas Fairbanks as his role model, he refined how he looked, acted, and spoke to be that of charming, sophisticated playboy. It paid off handsomely. Within months, he was being cast opposite some of Hollywood’s leading ladies, including Marlene Dietrich and Mae West. By the mid-1930s, he was the king of the screwball comedy, working alongside legendary ladies like Katherine Hepburn and Constance Bennett, and for legendary directors like Hal Roach and Alfred Hitchcock. His Hollywood career lasted 35 years, until he retired in 1966.
All because he decided to stand out by becoming the “epitome of masculine glamour.”
One of his later leading ladies experienced similar success with a similar approach: Grace Kelly.
“I came to success very quickly. Perhaps too quickly to value its importance.” – Grace Kelly
Born into wealth and privilege in Philadelphia to an Olympian turned entrepreneur and his wife, Grace Kelly had the look and manners of an aristocrat. But her voice? Not so much. She had the traditional Philadelphia accent, which is sort of a watered-down version of a Brooklyn or New Jersey accent:
Her teachers at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York told her to lose the accent immediately. So she bought how to speak records from a vocal coach and practiced faithfully every day using a tape recorder to hear herself speak. Within months, her Philly accent became a British/Upper Class American accent that better suited her look and manners.
It transformed her career.
She went from bit parts in local theater and television to her first Hollywood movie, Fourteen Hours (1951). She met Gary Cooper on the set of that movie, and he was so smitten by her charm and manners that he pushed for her to be cast as his wife in his next movie, High Noon (1952). She was 21.
High Noon became one of the top grossing films of the year and brought Grace Kelly to international attention. She made nine more films over the next four years – including starring in three Hitchcock films, and winning an Academy Award for playing against type in The Country Girl (1954) – until she retired in 1956 to marry Prince Rainier. She remained on the international stage as Her Serene Highness, the Princess Grace of Monaco, until her death in 1982.
Like Cary Grant, she’s remembered as one of the classiest people to ever grace the silver screen.
Meanwhile, while attractive, Lucile Ball knew she would never be known for her looks. So she opted for a different route: comedy.
“I think knowing what you cannot do is more important than knowing what you can.” – Lucille Ball
Born in upstate New York to a working class couple, Lucille Ball’s father died unexpectedly when Lucy was just three years old. Her mother remarried a few years later. When Lucy was 12, her stepfather, a Shriner, needed chorus girls for his next production, so he encouraged Lucy to audition. She was hired for the show and quickly fell in love with performing.
She moved to New York City a few years later to take acting lessons (Bette Davis was a classmate), and supported herself by being an in-house model for fashion designer Hattie Carnegie. She modeled and worked small parts on Broadway for a number of years before finally moving to Los Angeles in 1933.
But stardom was just as elusive in Hollywood as it had been on Broadway. She worked bit parts in a number of films throughout the 1930s and became known as the “Queen of the Bs” – B-movies that never reach A-list status.
Lucy was beyond frustrated.
What could she do to get noticed?
The answer was two-fold: become a red head, and get into comedy.
Both happened in 1942, when she was cast in the muscial DuBarry Was a Lady (1943) with Red Skelton. Skelton took her under his wing and taught her physical comedy. So did Buster Keaton. Lucy further honed her comedic chops on her radio show, My Favorite Husband (1948-1950), upon which the television show, I Love Lucy (1951-1957), was based.
Once it aired, I Love Lucy quickly became the most-watched show on television. Department stores closed early when it was on, because everyone was home watching Lucy. Water pressure dropped during the show and surged during commercial breaks when everyone used the restroom at the same time. Major movie stars like John Wayne, Van Johnson, and William Holden appeared on the show, wanting to be part of the phenomenon.
All because of Lucille Ball.
She was a “late bloomer” by all accounts – in Hollywood nearly 20 years before finding fame and fortune in her 40s – but she made the most of it. All she needed was a different approach.
A different, exciting character.
Here’s a clip from Stage Door (1937) with Eve Arden when Lucy was around age 25:
Stage Door (1937)
I Love Lucy
Episode: “Job Switching” (1952)
See the difference?
She made the effort to change and grown, and it changed the trajectory of her life.
Same with Grace Kelly.
Same with Cary Grant.
You know their names and films because they made the decision to do something different than normal. To use their looks, behavior, and speech in a such a way to be able to stand out from the crowd. If they hadn’t, you’d probably never know their names.
So how can you apply this to your life?
If what you’re doing isn’t getting you where you want, it’s time to try something new.
Becoming a memorable character is a great place to start.
Upgrade your skills. Lose the accent. Maybe try a new hair color.
Whatever it is, just do it and see what happens. You may be surprised by how quickly things start to turn around.
And if the don’t?
Then try something else.
Just a little tweak can often make all the difference in the world. Try it yourself and see.
Need more help determining where to start? This resource can help.
Diana Pemberton-Sikes helps women dress better and make more money. If you’d like to join her, click here to get started