Here's a personal grooming and preparation guide for speakers. The
points on the checklists may seem pedantically obvious, even boring, but
they're needed all the same. Sometimes it is the most obvious that is
overlooked and goes on to cause a major problem. So here they are,
Taking care of personal grooming or looking good IS part of delivering an effective speech.
In writing that I'm reminded of my Mother and her concern over how we appeared.
There were five children in our family. Getting everybody ready and out the door on time to get to a function was a triumph of organization. On the way down the path usually someone was stopped to tuck in a shirt, have a bit of sticky-up hair flattened or a knee inspection. Then we grew up. Personal grooming became our own responsibility.
And therein lurks the potential problem.
Everybody's personal grooming is not equal. There are generally agreed upon guidelines but their interpretation varies. Put a widely diverse group of people in a room and give them a quiz about personal grooming and they'll more than likely all agree on the basics: clean hair, shoes, tidy dress etc.
But get the same people to dress as if they were all going to give a similar speech at a similar venue to a similar audience and guess what? You already know the answer.
Personal presentation does have to be spelled
out. And for those of you think it's a petty concern and only of
interest to those who want to blend their individuality to bland, think
We know from research a person has approximately 3-5 seconds to make an initial positive impact on strangers.
While we may like to think we are not so 'shallow' or so easily influenced one way or another, we are. We judge people on their appearances. We do it all the time, but we especially do it when we meet someone new.
noticed, and logged it. We might not be literally ticking off the boxes
on a personal grooming check list but the reality is, we do have a
metaphorical sharpened pencil poised for action the moment we set eyes
All of these elements combine to give the initial impression.
To make it positive each has to work harmoniously with the other. But more than that, the total look must be appropriate for the occasion.
Because I'm at risk of sounding like my Mother, we'll take skip the bit about being clean! You know it already.
Instead we'll go straight to what is appropriate presentation, for this is where the danger really hides. If you've ever been to a party where everyone is dressed casually, except you, you'll understand.
If you don't know, ask what is suitable dress for the occasion. Make sure you get a clear answer and listen to it.
Your goal is to present yourself attractively while not detracting
from your purpose; presenting a speech. Your choice of clothing and
grooming should support that. Too much (as in "over-the-top") and your
appearance gets all the attention. The same happens with too little
In addition to suiting the occasion:
Prepare everything you need several working days in advance.
Do you need a haircut or a trim and tidy up?
Get that done earlier rather than later too.
Don't plan a radical change too close to your speech date.
If you don't like the result, you might not have the time to do anything about it.
Choose a style you feel comfortable with, one that you do not have to worry about and lets you get on with your task.
A key consideration is making sure the audience can see all of your face. If you have a long fringe, it may mask your eyes. Like wise long loose hair may cover your face while speaking.
The audience needs to 'read' your face while they listen to you talk. Covering or partially covering up makes the communication process harder. It may also send unintentional signals. The audience may interpret you as 'hiding behind your hair'. They may think you are avoiding them or very self-conscious and unsure of yourself. Some of that may be true but you don't need to advertise it. You're going to stand tall, face them: 'feel the fear and do it anyway'!
Wear what is appropriate to go with your clothes and the occasion.
If you are going to
be lit while talking you may need more than you usually wear. Stage lights can drain all the color from your face. Get advice
if you are unsure. That applies to men as well as women!
The final step in your personal grooming preparation is to have at least one full dress rehearsal wearing everything as you planned it. This will let you know whether or not your choices are suitable and comfortable.
If you have to stop your presentation to push straps back where they belong or keep tucking in a shirt whose tail is too short, change your choice. These clothes will be distraction rather than an aid.
And while you are still in preparation mode, get ready an ...
This is a speaker's first aid bag that you take with you to the venue. They're great to have as a backstop to meet the just-in-case scenario.
The first items to put in are any prescribed medicines you use on a regular daily basis.
Other useful items are:
And NOW let's fast forward.
You're ready to go. Quite rightly you aim to be there with plenty of time to
spare. You've done all the preparation. Your personal grooming is superb. You will pass the 3 second positive impression test
easily. Your speech is entertaining and informative. The audience is excitedly looking forward to your presentation. Here's one ...
Complete it as you go out the door.
Do you have:
That's it! Good luck and remember to breathe!