What is the best way to make a good impression in public speaking? Is it how you dress or how you act?
Listeners start forming opinions, at least, subconsciously, the very second they see a speaker. When he comes out briskly and starts his speech immediately curiosity (about him) alone will grab an audience’s attention. Then he is a fresh exhibit. But when a speaker sits on a platform in view of an audience for a period of time before he speaks the novelty is gone. And he may have to undo many erroneous ideas listeners have already formed about him.
When a speaker walks out in a lively manner and evidently happy because he is going to speak, the impression he makes is usually favorable. Obviously people expect him to be well-dressed, suitable for the occasion. Neither ornate nor seedy appearance is appreciated. Above all, a speaker should avoid anything about his or her dress that would attract undue attention to itself. Otherwise the effect will be distracting.
A woman, for instance, in a public speaking course for business and professional people, delivered a speech while wearing a huge, jet-black floppy-brimmed straw hat. She was slender which emphasized the size of the hat all the more. As if the hat were not ornate enough, she wore, attached to it, a red rose about the size of a boxer’s fist. Her habit of nodding her head as she spoke kept the hat brims flopping and the rose taking bows. Could anyone be expected to remember what she said?
Speakers who are not sure they know harmonious color combinations for clothing should check with somebody who does know. Obviously clothing should fit well and be of good, although not necessarily the most expensive, quality.
Proper clothing will make favorable impressions. Clothes along with the face and figure constitute the appearance. And a speaker’s appearance is important. But not nearly so important as a college senior rated it recently in a speech comprehensive examination. He rated it as a speaker’s most persuasive quality.
Nonsense! A speaker’s attitude, his love for people, his animated, enthusiastic spirit are far more persuasive than his personal appearance. Consider, for instance, a few highly persuasive speakers such as Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mahatma Gandhi, or Jesus. Was their persuasiveness a result of band-box grooming or elaborate clothing?
In my next post I’ll discuss some distractions that can get in the way of persuasive public speaking and what to do about them.