home archives subscribe about us tell us Public Speaking Skills: Presentation Tips, Techniques, and Advice
Email This Article | Printer Friendly Format

Delivery Skills, First Impressions, Business Attire

The "Little Things" Do Count, Starting with How You Look
You can't judge a book by its cover, the saying goes, but many people still do. That applies especially when you're up there presenting. The first impression you make comes from the way you look.

People form impressions within the first few minutes of seeing or meeting someone. So the first impression you make as a presenter should be as strong as possible.

Start with your choice of attire.
How you dress is no substitute for the substance and delivery of your presentation. Still, it goes a long way toward supporting a well-prepared presentation. Your best guide: always dress for the audience and the event. More to the point, dress a small cut above your audience. So, for example, if your audience is wearing slacks and a shirt, you could add a sport coat.

Dress appropriately.
Business and social dress are not the same, so avoid attire that's overly formal or overly casual. If your appearance draws attention to itself, it'll draw attention away from you and what you're saying. You don't want your listeners to be distracted by your clothing, hairstyle, accessories, or any other aspect of your personal appearance. So save the sheer, tight, transparent, flashy, slick, or super stylish looks for the social life. When you're addressing a group of colleagues, every aspect of your appearance should be directing their eyes to your face, and not anywhere else.

"You don't want your listeners to be distracted by your...appearance."

So what's right and what's wrong?
There's no one set of rules for every occasion. Sometimes, you can be guided by your organization's dress code. Some companies have written dress codes that are very rigid and specific. Other dress codes may be unwritten, vague, and/or flexible. In the end, you need to match your appearance to multiple aspects of your daily work, including your company's culture, but also that of an event or a client and to your role on any given day. If you work in IT, and occasionally need to crawl under desks, you probably shouldn't be wearing a fancy suit (or short skirt for that matter). On the other hand, if you have a meeting with the board of directors, you may need to wear a suit in an otherwise casual environment. Yet again, at some companies, anyone seen in a suit is probably interviewing for a job.

If you are wearing a suit...
First, a suit should fit. You should be able to move, even gesture, in a suit. You should be able to walk (no narrow skirts or tight pants). Make sure the sleeves are the right length, and that the suit is not too big or small as a result of dieting, binging, or the fact that you haven't worn it since prior to your adolescent growth spurt. If it has been that long since you've worn it, make sure it also isn't faded, threadbare, or hopelessly out of date. What you wear should help you to both look and feel comfortable. If your suit prevents you from breathing, get it fixed or replace it.

Use color to drive eyes toward your face. This means that the brightest elements of your attire should be nearest your face. For suits, it's easy—a dark suit with a lighter shirt or blouse and bright tie or scarf all works to drive the eye upward. On the other hand, light hosiery and shoes tend to draw the eye downward. The same concepts apply to more casual attire, but casual also means more latitude so double check in the mirror that the whole look drives the eyes to the face, ideally to your eyes.

"The brightest elements of your attire should be nearest your face."

The same principles apply to accessories. To the extent that you wear them, they should not distract. Avoid jewelry that is louder than you are (nothing huge, flashy, dangling, jangling, or otherwise noisy). Avoid ties that have golfers or modern art on them. Avoid scarves that drape to the floor. Don't stuff your pockets with any more items than you absolutely need, and don't have pens, pencils, or any other items poking out of your shirt or jacket pockets. Do make sure your shoes are polished and not scuffed. Your briefcase or purse also should fit the image you're trying to project—typically leather, well-maintained, and of a certain quality (but not covered with logos, and please don't display it on the tabletop—it belongs on the floor or at your side, never in anyone's face). And, if you can help it, don't take your briefcase or purse up to a lectern.

Starting at the top, make sure your hair is neatly cut and the color natural looking. Keep your hair out of your eyes and off your face. You should not have to fuss with your hair. Men, please trim those nose (and ear!) hairs and any facial hair. These days, you may even want to eliminate a unibrow (a single continuous eyebrow that extends over both eyes). Women, make-up should look fairly natural and appropriate to the circumstance (save the dramatic eye shadow and thick eye liner for another day).

A final note.
It bears repeating: your audience can form its first impression of you before you speak a single word. It follows that how you look helps determine your credibility, for better or worse.

This Issue

To find out what kind of first impression you make, join us at Executive Presentations in New York City. Click here for a schedule of upcoming seminars. Or you can call us (1-800-874-8278 US, +1.201.894.8200 International) for one-on-one coaching to talk about the image you present, and what you can do to improve on it!

Click here to read our Privacy Policy.

Copyright © 2005 E.C.G., Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published, or broadcast for any commercial purpose without specific written permission. We invite you to use our articles, without modification, for noncommercial purposes, provided there is adequate attribution and a link back to our web site (we only request that you inform us of any such use). In addition, we welcome appropriate links to our site from other sites.