Speech Smarts

Is your address shallow?

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Is it shallow to judge a book by its cover?  Well, where else can you start?  Instantly, a book jacket invites you to pick it up or let it lie.  If the title intrigues you, you will turn the book over and scan the back cover.  In seconds, you decide whether it is believable, relevant and worthy of your attention.   Hopefully your presentations are more interesting to see than to read.  If not, consider emailing your power point slides to avoid embarrassing yourself and wasting your listener’s time. Presumably your audience is expecting more than an email attachment so let’s cover a few ways to successfully dress up your next address.

I firmly believe that it is best not to judge a book by its cover.  Inside, you just might find a life changing idea. Ideally, we should judge people by what’s on the inside not by what we see on the outside.   Philosophically, ethically and perhaps morally this is right.  In practice, this is wrong.  Clothes communicate.  In fact, what you wear starts speaking before you do and sometimes says even more than you do.

One of the first Toastmasters meetings I attended (It was a public club and I had no intention of joining), was after a long day of home improvements.  I had been spackling sheetrock.  If you have never done this, it is a dirty and messy job.  Not wanting to be late, I showed up in my work clothes.  Just imagine a guy, with dust and spackle splattered all over him, getting up to speak.  Everyone was thinking this guy needs a shower.  As I showered them with quotes from Nietzsche, Teilhard de Chardin and Gandhi, they became even more bemused.   How I looked did not match how I spoke.  In fact, it was distracting and disrespectful.

I do not have an impeccable fashion sense. If I am dressed well it is entirely my wife’s doing. Consider what you wear as a costume that complements your speech. People see and read into what you are wearing.  Immediately, they are deciding if you are credible, just by your clothing. Is this shallow? Sure, but it is also true.  Your outfit should show your respect, and then connect to your content. It could serve as a prop to make your presentation powerful.  You might even wear a sports jersey from your favorite team, if you are talking about teamwork.  In general, it is better to be slightly better dressed than your audience.  However, wearing a Tux when everyone else is in T-shirts, shows that you are not cut from the same cloth. Your material is immaterial if you are not on the same page.

A paperback says the same thing as the cloth covered hard back, but in your hand, the subject at hand, has more weight.  While you may feel that what you say is more important than what you wear, remember that everyone is looking at you even if they aren’t listening to you. Clothing yourself appropriately influences the weight people give you and your message.   Covering your subject properly begins by clothing yourself appropriately. Looking your best invites your audience to believe what you have to say is worthy of their attention.  Your listeners aren’t shallow for focusing on how you dress.  Your dress is as relevant as your address and adds depth to your success.

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About the Author:

David Nemitz has designed and delivered over 10,000 sales presentations, professional development programs and executive coaching sessions for corporations and governmental organizations such as the US State Department, The French Consulate, and American Express. When he is not helping others define and refine their strengths, you can find him watching the sun set over The Magic City or strolling through The City of Light where he lives with his wife Ninette.