Appearance Either Supports or Becomes Your Message

A man in tights that don't fit doing a dance move

Appearance matters in presentations. It helps to look the part. That doesn’t mean you have to look beautiful. It means you have to look like the message you’re trying to send. If a construction site supervisor shows up in an expensive tuxedo at the job, his crew won’t hear a word he says. Instead they’ll all wonder, “What’s up with him?” If a prima ballerina shows up to opening night looking like a middle age man in leotards well that performance had better be a comedy otherwise the audience is going to wonder, “What in the hell is going on here?”

Too often presenters think they have to dress for the prom: new suit, new dress, new hairstyle. And sometimes that works. Some times. A more effective approach revolves around these three questions:

  • Who is my audience?
  • What is my brand?
  • What is my message?

If you pull together your appearance, your overall look in a way that supports your brand, helps deliver your message and relates to your audience, then you’ll find your appearance is a winning look. That’s a big difference from just “looking like a winner” or “dressing for success.”

Button for Audience Insights report

Let’s put this into practice. You’re delivering a sales presentation for a cutting edge software company to a group of doctors at the end of their day, just outside of their surgical suite. Your product will help doctors increase their profits and save them time.

  • audience: doctors who are wearing scrubs
  • brand: cutting edge
  • message: We can make you more money and save you time.

Can you see how wearing a Jos. A. Banks or Brooks Brothers conservative suit for a man or a Lord & Taylor dress for a woman would be all wrong in this setting? Those are classics, traditional, not cutting edge. You would want something a little funky in your attire: edgy hair cut, red sport coat with a white tee-shirt, expensive jeans, Stacey Adams shoes for guys, rockin’ pair of heels for women, something like that, something that says cutting edge and successful.

Now, take that look we just created and try walking into a bankers convention to sell them software to increase the efficiency of mobile banking. Probably wouldn’t work because it would be a little too out there for the audience.

I like to tell audiences and clients that I’m not Moses and I’m not holding tablets with laws. This requires intelligent flexibility on your part. Build that flexibility around audience, brand, and message and make sure your appearance helps you relate to the audience, support your brand, and deliver the message. When you can do that then you have the right look—even if the look is a middle aged man wearing leotards. Just make sure you are selling out of the box thinking or a really versatile pair of leotards.

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