Let’s move from the realm of what you do and say in front of your business presentation audience to the realm of how you appear to your audience.
Likewise, let’s immediately dismiss the notion that “it doesn’t matter what I look like – it’s the message that counts.” In a word . . . no.
This is so wrong-headed and juvenile that you can turn this to immediate advantage by adopting the exact opposite perspective right now. I’d wager that most folks your age won’t, particularly those stuck in liberal arts, for better or worse. Much more dramatic to strike a pose and deliver a mythic blow for “individuality” than to conform to society’s diktats, eh?
Well, let those folks strike their blows while you spiff yourself up for your presentations, both in public and in private job interviews, and gain a superior competitive advantage.
Here is the bottom line. Your appearance matters a great deal, like it or not, and it is up to us to dress and groom appropriate to the occasion and appropriate to our personal brand and the message we want to send. “Slob cool” may fly in college – and I stress may – but it garners only contempt outside the friendly confines of the local student activities center and fraternity house.
Is that “fair?”
Sure, it’s fair.
It certainly is fair! You may simply not like it. It may clang upon your youthful sensibilities.
You’re on display in front of a group of buyers. They want to know if your message is credible. Your appearance conveys important cues to your audience. It conveys one of two chief messages, with very little room to maneuver between them.
or . . .
Your appearance telegraphs to your audience that you are: Slow, sloppy, careless, inefficient, incompetent, weak, mercenary, stupid.
Moreover, you may never know when you are actually auditioning for your next job. That presentation you decided to “wing” with half-baked preparation and delivered in a wrinkled suit might have held in the audience a human resource professional recommended to you by a friend. But you blew the deal. Without even knowing it.
Think. How many powerful people mentally cross you off their list because of your haphazard, careless appearance? How many opportunities pass you by? How many great connections do you forfeit?
Your appearance on the stage contributes or detracts from your message. So, as a general rule, you should dress one half-step above the audience to convey a seriousness of purpose. For instance, if the audience is dressed in business casual (sports coat and tie), you dress in a suit. Simple.
Personal appearance overlaps into the area of personal branding, which is beyond the scope of this space, but two books I recommend to aid you in your quest for appearance enhancement are You, Inc. and The Brand Called You. Both of these books are worth the purchase price and are filled with the right kind of advice to propel you into delivering Powerful Presentations enhanced by a superb professional appearance.
For more on developing especially powerful personal competitive advantage, consult my own book The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.