Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Looking Good for that Presentation Matters More Than You Might Want to Believe

You’ve practiced your presentation until even the family dog heads for cover when he hears your opening line. You’ve researched your data, got your handouts ready, the slides have been double-checked and now the big moment is near.

Time to give your big presentation that will hopefully rank right up there with The Gettysburg Address and catapult you into the career stratosphere. But wait a minute. You’re not going to wear THAT, are you? And your hair -- are you sure?

Unfortunately, it is a fact of life that while you’re giving your presentation, many people will be mentally checking out your clothes and if they find anything about your appearance distracting, you can kiss the presentation hall of fame goodbye. (We are all judged in some way by our appearance, no matter how talented we are -- just look at shows like American Idol.)

I've been on television several times in the last year, and I took some time to ask the on-air reporters and anchors for their tips on what to wear. They advise:

* Dress like your audience or one step above. That means if everyone is in black tie, then you should be, too. If it’s a more casual setting , then wear more relaxed clothing, with perhaps a jacket. If you’re unsure, think about who your audience is going to be. If it’s a bunch of bankers and lawyers, then a conservative suit is a good bet. More creative folks like artists or advertisers would be okay with something a little jazzier, but just make sure it doesn’t go overboard. Remember you don’t want to distract anyone with your clothing.
*Even minor details are important. Find a mirror before you confront your audience and comb your hair, freshen your makeup, straighten your tie. If you’ve got on dangling earrings, a wild tie, a flashy scarf or a rumpled suit, your audience will be distracted. Take off a name tag and tuck it in a pocket until the presentation is over.
* For men, a charcoal gray or blue suit or sport coat is best -- no black. Wear a long-sleeve white shirt, unless television cameras are present. Then select light gray or light blue, which will help prevent you from looking washed out. If you button your coat, make sure that the lapels lie flat. If they don’t, then leave the coat undone, and avoid vests. (They add pounds.)
Find a conservative, even boring, tie. Striped red or maroon is good. And if you’re going to be seated at any time, find socks that reach high enough that no one has to see a slice of hairy leg. Black or brown shined shoes are a good idea, and make sure there are no holes in your soles.

If you wear jewelry, only use a watch and a ring. No tie pins, lapel pins, earrings or necklaces.

* For women, avoid pastel or pale-colored suits or dresses since bolder colors will make you look strong and confident. (A pastel blouse with a strong suit is okay, and best if there are television cameras. White blouses should be used otherwise.) If you are going to be sitting where others can see your legs before or after the presentation, keep your skirt length at knee- to mid-calf length. Shoes should have moderate heels with closed toes. Carry an extra pair of hose for emergencies.

Keep your jewelry simple and conservative. Pearls or gold look fine, but avoid diamonds and large, chunky or dangling necklaces, bracelets or earrings. Avoid low necklines, heavy makeup and black clothing -- it adds 10 years to your age.

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