The bottom line, said Yau, quoting Harvard Business School professor Laura Morgan Roberts, is if you're not managing your own professional image, others will.
In a half-day workshop on September 26, co-organised by Classified Post and Kornerstone - an institute of corporate and professional development - Yau offered a range of tips and advice to more than 80 participants from a wide range of professional backgrounds. The common factor? All wanted to better package themselves to put to the fore their personal and brand values.
Yau kicked off the workshop with a 15-minute session during which participants had to network with as many people as possible, and write down three words to describe each person they met.
The idea was to find out whether they are any good at communicating or networking.
"When we meet someone for the first time, we tend to fall into the trap of talking about ourselves in order to sell ourselves to the other party. It is a big mistake if you want to impress someone. We need to be good listeners and show interest in wanting to know about the other person," Yau said.
Jessie Chan, an information technology director, found the networking session a good ice-breaker.
"I was quite worried at the beginning as there was such a big group of people at the workshop and I wasn't sure about how to approach them. But this session made things so much more informal. About 15 minutes ago, we were strangers but not any more," she said.
Redmond Lai, also an IT professional, made use of the 15 minutes to warm up.
"I am not a very confident person so it's really difficult for me to come out of my shell. But this exercise was quite useful because it made it so much easier to start a conversation," he said.
During the workshop, Yau covered topics such as personal branding and brand attributes, perception management tools, effective professional image management, components of a business wardrobe, business dress code, and colour co-ordination for distinctive visual presentation.
Yau explained that one's personal brand is a promise to the clients - a promise of consistency, competency and reliability.
By using the 3Es method - extract, express and exude - we can uncover our personal unique selling propositions, or USP, to differentiate ourselves from the competition, which is a vital part of our branding effort.
First, extract your qualities and attributes, being clear about your personal characteristics, the market and your target audience, and making sure these attributes are real and unique, she said.
Second, when you express the attributes, you must get to know not only yourself but also your competitors, so as to craft your message and communication with them. It is at this stage that you can build a relationship with your target audience and inspire loyalty, Yau added.
Finally, you must exude your attributes - in other words, manage your brand. This is about projecting your image consistently over a sustained period of time.
Yau said personal branding offline and online should be done in tandem. We must take advantage of the 120 million users on LinkedIn and the 800 million active users on Facebook, not to mention the millions of users across various other social networking platforms.
On professional image, Yau pointed out that it's about dressing for the occasion.
"Our professional attire should always complement us," she explained.
Our physical image - perceived through the way we carry ourselves in our clothes, our style and choice of colour - projects a professional image, or not, she added.
According to her, black stands for sophistication, power and mystery; grey for stability, authority and maturity; purple for royalty, luxury, dignity, passion and magic; and blue for peace, stability, confidence, calmness, sincerity and integrity. Green reflects life, healing, freshness and relaxation, while red stands for danger, passion, boldness and urgency. We need to take advantage of the underlying qualities of various colours to wear them effectively to express ourselves.
Personal branding, according to Yau, is about finding out more about yourself and then excelling in what you do. The same applies to branding a company to increase its value and building a stronger reputation to herald better financial results.
Jessie Chan, who said she found it difficult to open up and sell herself to others, deemed the workshop helpful.
"The suggestions and tips are very constructive, but as [Yau] pointed out earlier, Chinese people are generally very conservative and believe in modesty and humbleness," she said. "We first need to overcome personal hurdles such as shyness, in my case, before we can talk about selling personal qualities. It's really a cultural thing."
Redmond Lai echoed this view about cultural conditioning but said the workshop had helped him recognise and understand his strengths.