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The Perfect Presentation: Appearance

In part 5 of a 6-week series, we share our tips for dressing to impress.

You've learned what materials to bring, what technology to use and how to speak to your audience; now it's time to learn what to wear. Presentations aren't a fashion show--nobody cares if your suit is Armani or from Men's Warehouse--but your appearance can help sway your audience more than you'd think. Investors, for instance, will feel more comfortable investing in a well-groomed individual than a disheveled one any day. So straighten your tie, dust off your shoes and pay attention to the following advice on how to improve your appearance.

Dress for your audience. "Investors and buyers want to know their money is going to good use, so play the part of the conservative business person," says Megan Kristel, owner of Kristel Closets, an image consulting firm serving the Philadelphia area. She recommends the following tips for looking professional:

  • Wear a well-tailored suit of high-quality fabrics.
  • Keep it simple, but not boring. Wear neutral colors. Women can wear a few well-placed accessories.
  • Make-up should be as neutral as possible. Try to look healthy and rested.

Pay attention to details. "If you're asking for money or looking to create a business relationship with these individuals, show them that you'll be as meticulous with their time and money as you are with yourself," says Kristel. That means paying attention to the little details you may not notice--or even care about--on a typical workday. Kristel advises checking the following before leaving the house:

  • Skirt and pant hems should be secure.
  • Shoes are polished, and heels are secure. "There's nothing worse than noisy shoes in a quiet room."
  • Men should have a recent haircut and trimmed facial hair.
  • Check for stocking runs. Always keep an extra pair with you.

Avoid distractions. You want your audience to be paying attention to your presentation--not your clothes. If the only thing they can remember about you at the end of the day is the tropical shirt you wore, you're in trouble. Kristel offers the following advice to keep it simple:

  • If you wear glasses, keep the lines clean; don't wear funky-colored frames. If contacts are an option, wear them instead.
  • You can wear jewelry--even more interesting pieces--as long as they're not the focal point of your outfit.
  • Keep your documents and personal items in one bag that's clean and simple. "The more items you have to bring in, the more likely you'll be to fumble and look unorganized. If you're able, bring an assistant with you to help distribute and collect any printed material."

Be comfortable. This is the most important tip. "Make sure you're comfortable in your outfit--literally and figuratively," says Kristel. If the last time you wore a suit was the tux you wore at your brother's wedding, don't force yourself in one. Dress slacks and a tailored shirt will work fine.

If you're pitching a business that's fun and geared toward younger people, feel free to ditch the fussy clothes. If you're in your 20s or early 30s, you might be able to get away with wearing a pair of dark, pressed jeans and a dark-colored collared shirt, especially if you're pitching a creative business, such as a music magazine or clothing company.

The bottom line: Let your personality come through just enough to make you stand out without being distracting. A polished appearance is the perfect complement to a polished presentation.

Other articles in "The Perfect Presentation Series":

Week 1: Materials

Week 2: Technology

Week 3: Speaking

Week 4: Practice
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