Your industry has asked you to present on your field of expertise. But the thought of presenting makes your palms sweat.
Calm your nerves. Follow these seven tips and you’ll likely get applause from your audience, not rotten tomatoes.
Remind yourself nobody’s going to throw rotten tomatoes at you – Your audience is rooting for you. Still, establishing rapport up front helps. Ask about someone’s lapel pin or laptop case. Don’t glad-hand everyone – that comes across needy. Be friendly but be authentic.
Don’t let a slip break your stride – Correct your malapropism (or excuse your cough) and keep on presenting. People care more about how a presenter reacts to a snafu than the fact they made one. Just smile, say “oops,” and offer your next key point. Your audience will be impressed you withstood a faux pas far better than they would have.
Move around. But don’t make people seasick – When you start, anchor in a location and remain there for several minutes. Once you’re into your presentation, however, feel free to gently roam. Audiences like to know their presenter isn’t some remote-controlled robot. But you’re not a thoroughbred vying for the Triple Crown, either. Glide. Stop. Present for a while. Glide again.
Dialogue more, monologue less – Engagement is the goal. People learn more through conversation (and are less likely to doze off). Pitch questions: ‘Who has encountered this challenge and how did YOU solve it?’ Even let your audience answer one another’s questions. But control the room. This is YOUR presentation, not The Jerry Springer Show.
One point per slide – I’m stunned some presenters still put six bullet points on one slide. Like there’s a dearth of PowerPoint slides out there and we need to conserve them. Deliver your points one at a time, visually as well as orally. You’ll more easily recall what you have to say and your audience will more easily recall what you said.
Expect pushback. Know how to manage it – Challenging authority has replaced baseball as our national pastime. Expect someone to dispute some point you’re making. Here’s where “getting along” must transcend “proving you’re right.” Ask challengers how they derived their view (you may find some truth in their perspective, allowing you to then show how nuanced your topic is). If their view’s incorrect, or outdated, don’t say that. Focus on what the evidence reveals (“We used to think the world was flat, but explorers have disproven that by sailing around the world.”) That moves the dispute from one of opinions to facts.
Conclude by asking for questions. And, for enlightenment – In wrapping up, I ask what surprised the group most about what they heard. What they learned that they hadn’t expected to. What they’ll do differently as a result of my talk or continue to do with greater passion. Their answers should convince your hosts that you got your points across well. And, that they should invite you back to present on another topic.
ABOUT OUR GUEST BLOGGER
Jeff Herrington has conducted hundreds of writing workshops in the U. S., Canada, Australia, the U.K., and Germany. Companies that have been brought Jeff’s workshops on-site include JPMorgan Chase, American Century Investments, Arizona Public Service, IBM, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. Jeff also has provided consulting expertise for such companies as Coca-Cola France, Whirlpool, John Deere and Wausau Insurance.
Public speaking is absolutely a learned skill. Using time-tested techniques, you can overcome fears and learn how to be an effective speaker. In this short video, public speaking coach Michele Trent outlines what you can expect in our “Presentation Basics” coaching package.
For more information about all of our 1-on-1 personal coaching packages, see our coaching page.
By Paul Barton Phoenix Public Speaking Founder and Owner
IMAGINE you are going to build a house with the finest building materials available, but without a foundation or a frame. What you’d have is a mess. That’s what a speech or business presentation with great content but no structure is like. Structure helps your business presentation to be digestible. It keeps you on point and helps keep you on time.
In a previous blog, public speaking coach Michele Trent wrote about the need to have an introduction, a body and a conclusion to every speech or presentation, and she explained the format in the easy-to-understand terms “tell ‘em what you’re going to tell them, tell ‘em, and tell ‘em what you just told ‘em.”
Intro, body, and conclusion are the fundamental parts of a presentation.
Here’s a different way of thinking about the structure of a presentation that may help you organize your thoughts and frame your points – what, so what, now what.
Here’s how it breaks down:
What (Introduction) – What is your presentation about.
So What (Body) – Why does it matter to the audience.
Now What (Conclusion) – What are you asking the audience to do (the call to action).
Sequence is Key
One key to this organizational format is that it must go in the proper sequence. Have you ever been asked to sign a petition in a parking lot of a grocery store? I never sign them. Why? In part because the petitioner is skipping the “What” and “So What” stages and going directly to the “Now What” stage. I don’t know what they are talking about or why it matters to me, so I can’t commit to taking action.
Don’t assume your audience knows what you’re talking about. Establish a good foundation. Build facts and examples upon that foundation to clearly outline why the issue is important. Then clearly explain what action you want your audience to take.
With a solid structure, you can build a strong case for the change or action you are seeking. Next time you’re preparing a presentation, think about your structure. When you apply a solid structure, you’ll have a great presentation.
You probably remember giving class presentations or speeches in middle school or high school. If it was anything like my experience, you weren’t given a tremendous amount of guidance. You were given a general idea of what your topic was to be about, you were told how long to speak, whether you could use visual aids, and not to talk too fast.
As for the structure of your remarks, it was pretty much – tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em, tell ‘em, and then tell ‘em what you told ‘em. Albeit simple, this is still sound advice. When it gets right down to it, your presentation will have an open, a body, and a conclusion. Of course, there’s quite a bit you can do within each section but, at its core, this is the basic structure.
One simple way to elevate your next presentation is to give extra thought to the opening and closing. Many times, presenters just want to get to the guts of the presentation and forget to set it up for the audience and let them know what they are going to hear. Likewise, at the end, it is tempting to go right to the questions and then neglect the close. If you sum up the points you have made, you will drastically increase the likelihood that your audience will remember what you’ve just said.
One reason you may sway from this tried and true formula is that it might seem redundant to you. If you mention your main points three times and then unpack the points during the body of the presentation, isn’t that overkill? Nope. You are familiar with your message. Your audience is not. While they may have varying degrees of knowledge (your manager may have heard the points from you already), they are not immersed in the details the way you are. Plus, we live in a fast-paced, content-overloaded, culture. People are getting message flung at them from all sides. When you have their attention, walk them through your material in such a way that it is impossible to be misunderstood. It is better to have one person say “sheesh, I’ve got it already” than five people walk out scratching their heads wondering what the heck that was all about.
As part of your opening, clearly lay out what you are going to present. Then, present it clearly with illustrations, examples, data, and application. Finally, sum it all up, so that everyone knows the key takeaways. If we all applied this simple structure that was given to us in grammar school, we would find that many of our meetings would be more productive simply because we would be walking out with the same set of important learnings.
Do you have a business presentation on the horizon? Think through your remarks. Are you planning to tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em, tell ‘em, and then tell ‘em what you’ve told ‘em? If not, you may be missing a simple and direct method for clearly communicating what it is you have to say.
MORE AND MORE, business presentations are being delivered to virtual audiences through webinars, podcasts and speakerphone meetings. These digital deliveries require different techniques than face-to-face delivery. Dhariana Lozano recently co-hosted a live webinar on “How to Engage and Virtual Audience.” The following is an edited version of the webinar. You can watch a video replay of the webinar here.
Dhariana: Hey everyone! We are live. I’m here with Paul Barton and we are just getting set up to start our, How To Engage Virtual Audiences webinar. How are you today Paul?
Paul: Doing alright. Welcome, everybody! Thanks for taking time out of your busy day to join us and we thought we would do this because business presentations in the digital age are increasingly being delivered through virtual format, through virtual meetings, webinars, and even good old low-tech speakerphones where it says travel costs, and as we grow in this kind of global economy it just seems like more and more things are being done virtual and that’s just a little bit different than sit in a boardroom or in a conference room doing presentations.
Dhariana: Absolutely. Yeah. We did a lot of conference calling when I was back in the corporate world. This particular company was worldwide. There were people in China, there were people in South America, and it was just so much easier to hop on the phone and talk to everyone instead of having people fly out constantly and have to put together these big meetings.
Paul: So why don’t we kind of explain how we know each other, which is kind of interesting in a virtual way as well because Dhariana and I have never met in person.
Dhariana: No, not yet.
Paul: I honestly discovered her online when I was seeking resources for a class I was teaching in business communications and was super impressed with her website so I reached out to her and she actually did a guest speaking gig for my class via Skype.
Dhariana: Yeah, my first, like virtual webinar teaching live experience was very cool.
Paul: So we will practice what we preach here today.
Dhariana: Yeah, that was a really fun experience. I’ve never done it before to actually teach a whole group live so it was definitely fun and I am so glad I did it. And then after that, Paul became my public speaking coach because I spoke at W Live and I needed practice. And after working with them, I just felt so much more confident so we decided to join forces here to give you guys some tips on how you can be a better presenter virtually. So via speakerphone meetings, as Paul mentioned or even in a webinar like this.
Paul: So why don’t you go ahead and dive in. You’re the webinar guru.
Dhariana: Alright. So I’m going to give you guys some tips on how to engage a virtual audience. So my first one, and it’s one that we kind of skipped over Paul, but it is just simply to demand the attention of your audience. So, when you are online, you’re usually multi-tasking and even in conference meetings that happens where you’re taking notes or because you’re in a room and no one’s actually seeing you or you could have known who’s watching you, you are feeling with your books or making water, or whatever it might be. So in the beginning of your presentation, you can just simply say, “close out all your tabs and hang out with me for the next hour” and then go into it, your introduction or however long you’re presentation might be. That’s the first one. It is super simple.
The second one is also kind of simple but it’s just to ask questions during your presentation and Paul taught me how to do this also in a live presentation just to keep people interested and kind of wake them up from whatever they might be doing, taking notes or whatever. To go ahead and ask questions, you can do polls or quizzes even throughout your presentation if that makes sense.
And speaking about quizzes and polls, you can also go ahead and create interactive elements. I know that here on Facebook live and on Instagram live you can share photos, you can do little Q&A bubbles. Here on Facebook live, you can do live polls where people can actually answer as you were going live. So that’s a way to keep people interested, just things popping up on their screen, will kind of drag their attention.
The fourth tip is to do a Q&A session with your audience. So just take some time to answer any questions that come up. This might be especially useful if you have a long presentation or one that is broken up into several parts. I think it might be or they are just downloading a lot of information from you, it might be good to just take a stop, let people ask questions so they are not trying to jot them down and not pay attention to you while you are speaking.
Another cool thing you can do and it adds a little extra to the presentation, just offer bonus. Ask your audience to stick with you till the end and they will get a special surprise and whatever that is. It is up to you. It can be a discount. It can be a download. It can be extra resources. Whatever you feel is appropriate there, but tell them to hang out with you till the end. It builds anticipation and keeps them around.
And then the last one is to hold a chatter interview after the show. So I was on a virtual presentation, it was a Twitter chat with Madalyn Sklar and after that, she invited me onto her Facebook Live and we did a little recap to questions that people might have had that we didn’t get to answer during the Twitter chat. So that is another way to keep your audience engaged, maybe bring one of them with you live just to get them to hit the ground and pay attention to the material that’s being shown to them.
Paul: Cool. So speaking of questions, how are people able to ask questions today.
Dhariana: Yes, so you guys can go ahead and leave any questions in the comments and we can go ahead and answer them live for you or if you’re watching the replay, drop them in the comment below and we’ll be sure to check back and answer anything you might have.
Paul: Ok. So some folks are using GoToWebinar or GoToMeeting as an internal way of having a meeting and then some of these steps I think we’re probably more applicable to doing a business webinar sort of B2B, B2C kind of interaction with customers or clients. So we’re kind of speaking about both I think, doing meetings internally as well as externally. So one of the things we do externally is used my other social media tools like having a live tweet hashtag for people to use during the meeting or even afterward if people missed it, they can go search that hashtag and kind of see what the discussion was. This way is keeping engaging people because obviously not being in person, you need as much interactivity as you can to see your audience. It is really distracting as a speaker as well if you’d been on one of these to not see your audience because when I do public speaking, I get a lot of energy off my audience and so it’s hard to see that obviously.
Dhariana: It is.
Paul: You have no idea if people are paying attention or not. So ways that you can get those questions and so forth is really helpful to the presenter too to try to keep your energy level up.
Dhariana: Yeah, absolutely, I found that to be a big difference. I kind of feel like I’m talking to myself sometimes when I host my webinar. I tend to ask questions if people are still with me.
Paul: So this is helpful today that I don’t know how it with Dharana’s expertise, how you managed to do the split screen here because that’s not something that us normal civilians can do on Facebook. But your magic was able to do the split screen, which is really helpful at least we have another person that you can see.
Dhariana: Right. Yeah, and that is another tip. If you can bring someone with you I think that helps the audience because you have a dialogue back and forth, and there’s more than one person to watch. You’re not just watching the same person and talk to you the whole time. And I use BeLive to get us both on here. So if anyone’s wondering what technology it is. It is BeLiveTV.
Paul: I know even when I’ve done podcasts where I’ve been a guest on a podcast, the podcast itself is not visual.
Paul: That’s audio podcast but when I’ve done, the ones I like the best are ones that will tie us in video wise so that we can see the body language of the other presenters and it’s kind of weird but it really helps you know when to interject or break ends if you’ve got, one I did there were three of us being interviewed by one person so four total people on the podcast and if it wasn’t for the video, I think we would have been interrupting each other a lot and so forth because you can’t tell if it is your turn to interject or leaning forward that wanted to speak.
Dhariana: Yeah, absolutely. And you have some tips coming up about that because I think that’s also a challenge with the conference phone meetings, there are technical challenges that you don’t think about right away and there are challenges like what spoke about, just not being able to take visual cues because they’re just not available over speakerphone.
Paul: Yeah. So let’s jump into that. Speakerphone meetings are still really common. It is kind of a low-tech but for a variety of reasons I think people listening today would agree if you’re in business, you’re still doing a lot of meetings on speakerphone. Sometimes your desk phone speakerphone. Sometimes a little more sophisticated, a star phone that sits in the conference room and it is a little bit, better sound quality.
So the first step is to just test your sound and make sure that you’ve got your microphone or your starphone, your phone in the best place possible and ask people who aren’t speaking on a call to mute their phone, just to cut down on all that background noise and give you a better chance to be able to hearing the sound a little bit more professional.
And then something I have to work on is to speak a little bit slower and use simple words and ideas because 80 to 90 percent of what we communicate is done with our body language. But when we are on a speakerphone, we can’t see the body language so we need to be clearer.
Sometimes I’ll send handouts out before the meeting so people have things to follow along. There’s a word that they’re having trouble understanding, what you’re saying or how you’re pronouncing it, it will kind of cue them in when they can see it on a printed piece of paper that you’ve sent out to. You can put your picture on that paper so they know what you look like.
You have to be careful with dry humor and your sarcasm because that just doesn’t carry well when it’s voice only. They can’t see you smiling or your body language that indicates you were just kidding or being sarcastic. So you have to be really careful with that.
You have to be careful with open-ended questions because it’s really easy for people to talk over each other and likewise with making interjections. So an interjection would be like “I see,” or “uh-huh” and that will be polite when you’re live so that people know you’re listening to them but it can really be distracting on a call and here’s why: a lot of speaker phones have a compressor microphone and that means the microphone on your speakerphone is trying to keep the sound level the exact same volume all the time. So if something’s quiet, you’ll hear it, try to kind of turn it up. When something’s really loud, it will turn down. If you’re in a conference meeting and there are seven or eight people around the table and then someone’s joining you by speakerphone, when the person at the far end of the table starts to speak, you can hear their voice if they’re on the phone kind of rise as the microphone tries to turn them up. But if you’ve got multiple people talking, then the phone’s coming up and down, and up and down with the volume.
One the line, speakerphone can only hear one person at a time. So if someone is giving their presentation and you’re trying to interject with “uh-huh,” “I see,” or something, the phone is going to have to go back and forth between people so it’s probably best to hold your “uh-huh’s” and “I see’s” until the end.
The other problem is people talking over each other so as it’s really important to have a moderator or a facilitator on a meeting. The way I really like to do on this call on one person at a time so someone’s finished with their little presentation. You can go around the horn as they say in baseball. You can call each person by name. In that way, you don’t have people talking over each other.
And sometimes participants who may not be familiar with everyone on the call, they’re not sure who’s talking. Like I know it’s a woman but gosh there are three women on this call. I don’t know who it is. So it’s helpful to call people out by name and go around one at a time like that.
My last tip is to totally understand your technology: what’s available to you, are you able to record the call for instance, are you able to mute callers as the facilitator. So if you’re the host or facilitator just totally understand everything that’s available to you.
Dhariana: Yeah. Lots of interesting stuff there like the microphone thing. I didn’t know that until Paul let me know and I’ve been in so many meetings where someone does sell a joke and then it just goes quiet on your end.
Dhariana: And you are just sitting there like, oh, and it’s cutting off and it’s just really frustrating to have a meeting like that so that’s super interesting and something that I guess I never thought about before like how the actual microphone works.
Paul: Yeah, I tend to be on the phone a lot with a bunch of people in a room having a live meeting and then I’m on the speakerphone listening to them. When someone says something funny in the libe room everybody starts laughing and what the microphone does when it gets really loud like that is it immediately tries to cut it back. So you just hear this popping sound and maybe it’s laughing, maybe you don’t. But how are you going to get involved and the people in the room are like why aren’t you laughing too?
Alright. So I think it’s time to see if you guys have any questions. You can drop them in the comment below. And again if you’re watching this on the replay, go ahead and drop your question and Paul and I will make sure to come back and then answer those for you.
Paul: While we are waiting, for those that queue up, Dhariana, this is one of my philosophies that Q&As are never the last thing you do.
Paul: They’re the second to last thing you do because you want your presentation to end with a sizzle, not a fizzle.
Dhariana: I love that and I actually did implement that tip at my presentation this past summer. It is nice also because you don’t just like abruptly end like “OK, I guess no questions now. I got to go.” You don’t feel awkward standing there just kind of, okay, so the questions come in. You have time to save yourself.
Paul: The only way a Q&A can end with a sizzle is if something’s gone horribly wrong and then people are talking about it, like “man you wouldn’t believe the argument that broke out.”
Dhariana: Oh my goodness, I can’t imagine.
Paul: So, if you put this stuff at the last, then you can say okay and then you can dive into your real quick conclusion and end things on a high note. So I’ve also been trying out “What questions do you have?” as opposed to “Do you have any questions?”
Dhariana: I love that.
Paul: It’s supposed to illicit more questions. It assumes that your audience has them. I’ve been testing it out to see how it works when I do workshops.
Dhariana: Right. So we actually do have a question from Joanna and she says: What is the best way to coordinate a transition between multiple presenters on the same meeting?
Paul: Yeah, that’s a great question. Hi Joanna. I know I haven’t seen you in quite a while. We were in the same networking group a while back. And we’re both from Iowa. How cool is that? Great question. I think the answer to that is in the facilitator or the host of the meeting. Really taking charge and making sure that you only have one person at a time speaking and if you have a recurring meeting like a weekly meeting or a monthly meeting, it might be a little awkward at first to set the ground rules but after a while the participants will learn what you’re supposed to do and they’ll learn I’m not supposed to speak until we go around and each person is asked by name.
Another tip about that, which may not have been in your question, but I like to sometimes on these monthly meetings rotate the person who’s hosting the meeting to put the responsibility on the other meeting participants to let them do the agenda and then they get more engaged and more involved in that way.
Dhariana: That’s a great tip. We have recurrent meetings all the time and it was helpful to switch it up. Have a guest speaker or someone else come in there and adds to the meeting in a way, just not the same two people over and over.
Paul: Because typically, if you’re in a big company, it’s the corporate headquarters people that set up and run the meeting and then all the people in the remote locations join. So it’s sort of seen as the corporate headquarters meeting where if you rotate the host, you can say, “hey the people outside of corporate are going to run the meeting this time,” then that helps change things up and share the responsibility. It gives a different perspective to the meeting well.
Dhariana: Yeah. I’m sure it gets more people to join you because I know that’s also sometimes a challenge in the corporate world, when you have a recurring meetings people start getting little lazy about it and they might skip one or two but if different people are hosting, it might give you more of an incentive to actually get ten besides I have to be there.
Alright. So I think that’s the only question we have right now. So Paul, would you, I have a question. Even if you don’t have like a recurring meeting, do you think you should set up rules during your presentation in the beginning?
Paul: Yeah, that’s a great idea. If you’re the host and you’ve never had a meeting you could still say, “before we get started here, here’s a couple of ground rules for the meeting so we can avoid confusion and not talk over each other and so that we understand who it is that is speaking because we don’t all recognize each other’s voice. We’re gonna go one at a time and I’ll call upon you to speak. So Joe go ahead and give your presentation and then afterward we’ll go around the room and we’ll call each person one at a time to answer.” You can set those ground rules. Great idea and great question.
Dhariana: Yeah, the host really has to take charge and be not only the host but facilitate the rest of the meeting as well to cut down the confusion.
Paul: And then again, those printed agendas with people’s names on the topics are helpful so that if you’re not hearing well or you’re trying to figure out who it is that’s speaking then that is helpful too, to be able to refer to.
Dhariana: Yeah, alright. Well, Paul is a great public speaking coach and if you have any presentations coming up, if you do webinars, if you have actual speaking engagements in front of hundreds or thousands of people or even if you were just doing conference meetings at your company, Paul can help you out. He made me feel so much more confident going up on that stage. You know the information that you’re going to present but it’s different to actually work with someone who can help you present it in a way that you feel comfortable in a way that translates to your audience and I just learned so much from our sessions. So Paul how can people find you?
Paul: Well, you can find me at my website PhoenixPublicSpeaking.com. There’s a blog on there with tons of free tips and tricks, things that you can use. At the bottom of the page, you’ll find all my social media links. And there’s an events calendar so you can see what’s coming up.
Dhariana: Yeah. And you will be doing more webinars, right?
Paul: We’ll see. This is the first one. So we’re trying some out a little bit. And I must say that Dhariana is a great coach too because I wouldn’t have tried this without her. She’s so great at answering all kinds of my silly questions about what do you do with the stories on Instagram for instance. Those just totally baffled me but Dhariana is able to make you understand it in really simple terms. And what I really love about your blog by the way and all the tips you have are really immediately actionable. Every time I get an email that you’ve got a blog post out, I read it right away because it’s almost always something that I can actually do right away.
Dhariana: That’s awesome. Thank you, Paul.
Paul: Keep those coming.
Dhariana: Thank you. I try to make everything straight to the point just because that’s how I am in real life and I want people to get value and if you’re watching this on Paul’s feed, then you can find my blog at Dharilo.com. I am using the same handle on all the social media platforms. So @dharilo, you can find me there. I tweet a lot. I’m on Instagram a lot. If you have any questions, let us know. I know Paul can answer any public speaking questions but definitely check out his blog. There’s a lot of cool tips, things you don’t think about, like how to prevent a sore throat before you go on stage. I know they’re little tips. Just stuff you don’t typically think about. You’re so worried about your presentation, on being prepared, the information, and all these other things that Paul can help you figure it all out and feel comfortable and prepare correctly.
Paul: Alright. Well, thanks again for joining us. We’ve covered a lot of stuff today, how to engage an audience, how to run a more efficient speaker phone meeting.
Dhariana: See you next time. Have a good day everyone. Thank you again for joining us. Check Paul’s, tips out, check out my social media tips as well and we’ll see you next time. Have a good day.
It’s hard to believe PowerPoint has been around for more than 30 years. It has become a common tool used by most companies to produce business presentations. Although the program is easily accessible, not all presentations are successful. A well-designed presentation helps make your content more understandable, as well as more memorable. Unfortunately, good design is not a template in PowerPoint.
If you’d like to maximize the impact of your PowerPoint presentation, here are a few simple guidelines to keep in mind:
> Consistency: Use master slides to help give the presentation structure, and save you time as you create new slides. These also can be customized if needed.
> Focus: Don’t speak to your slides—talk to your audience. Each slide should support and reinforce your messaging.
> The Opener: Open with something surprising or intriguingthat appeals to your audience’s emotions. This will quickly get their attention.
> Slide count: Limit the number of slides. If you are not sure, try to go with one per minute.
>Format: Never use paragraphs. Bulleted items are best—no more than six bullet points per slide. Try to avoid centering the copy. Left-aligned text is best, as it makes for a smoother read.
> Pacing: Animated builds (text that appears with a mouse click) control the pacing of the presentation. This keeps the audience focused on you and not reading ahead.
> Fonts: Stay with a few standard fonts and avoid trendy typefaces that are hard to read. Sans-serif fonts are easiest to read. Some of the oldest typefaces, such as Helvetica or Arial, never go out of style. Use varying weights for emphasis—never use all caps.
> Photos: One of the most common mistakes is using low quality, gimmicky photos. Keep in mind that quality images are a reflection of your brand.
> Special Effects: You’re not trying to make the next Star Wars epic. Avoid overused transitions, fly-ins, inappropriate animations, and sounds. These quickly become annoying and distract from your communication.
Using these tips will help you to have well-designed PowerPoint slides that support your key points and give you a more powerful presentation.
ABOUT OUR GUEST BLOGGER
Tim Fisher is the founder of Summation, a brand design firm in Scottsdale, Ariz. For 20 years, Tim and his team have worked with a wide range of clients, from Fortune 100 companies to start-ups. They provide brand development/brand revitalization, corporate identity, packaging, print, and website design. They especially enjoy working with smaller companies, developing their brands one project at a time.
WHEN you look good, you feel good. And when you feel good, you present with greater confidence and poise. What’s more, your attire is an important part of your visual communication. Just like your body language, the clothes you choose to wear send important messages to your audience. So, knowing how important your business wardrobe can be to your speaking and career success, our own Paul Barton asked fashion expert Mary Zarob for some advice.
Q. A business professional has a big presentation coming up that could make or break their career. They want to look their best and they come into your shop. Where would you start?
MZ: I would start by asking about their business, the event and who they are presenting to. Lawyers? Real estate professionals? Sales teams? CEOs? In today’s business world, you need to dress for your customers and clientele. Also, I would learn about their personal style and how they like clothes to fit. It’s important to me that my clients feel comfortable in their clothes and like what they wear. I wouldn’t put them in a three-piece suit when they are presenting to technology executives and should wear a jacket and jeans. You want to look professional and tailored, however, it’s important that the audience is focusing on what you are saying and not the color of your shirt or shoes.
Q. Would your fashion guidance change if the person was in their 20s versus someone like me in their 50s? Does the age of the speaker in any way influence appropriate attire?
MZ: It does! It’s important to dress for your age. However, a lot of my younger clients want to dress older and my older clients want to dress younger. An easy and inexpensive way to change an outfit for your age or to appeal to another generation is what accessories you choose. Shoes, belt, watch, handbag, jewelry, etc. can transform an outfit quickly. Pearl earrings vs. trendy hoops or loafer vs. Chelsea boot. Simple accessory changes and details can make your outfit age appropriate.
Q. What trends are you seeing in business attire for men and women? Anything in particular for Phoenix?
MZ: Overall, Phoenix isn’t a very formal town but I am seeing a lot of men and women turning away from casual (T-shirt and jeans) and dressing up more. For women, I’m seeing more and more jackets or blazers in the office. However, it’s not a full suit like the 1980s but more a stylish color or pattern. They also wear them out to dinner or happy hour. There is a feminine trend happening with more lace, florals, and ruffles on shirts and skirts. It’s still professional but with a feminine touch. Women in the office want to be taken seriously but still feminine (not sexy).
For men – (like women) – they are dressing up more. The untucked shirt is only for short sleeve shirts and not for the office or happy hour. Men are tucking in the shirts and showing off their belts and accessories. They don’t go anywhere without a jacket and aren’t afraid of color and pattern. Patterned slacks are very popular. If they own a patterned suit, they will wear the pants by themselves with a collared shirt to the office or on an appointment. Another trend I’m seeing for men is monochromatic dressing – wearing the same shade of color head to toe.
Q. What should business professionals consider when beginning or updating their wardrobes?
MZ: I always suggest going through your closet first and tailoring/altering anything that doesn’t fit how you like. If pants are too long, hem them. If a skirt is too big, take it in. If a shirt is too baggy, have it slimmed down. Often times, in people’s closets there are great clothes that aren’t being worn because they don’t fit right. Or, the style was fuller or baggy and now it’s more tailored. Simple alterations can help bring life to your clothes and it’s less expensive than throwing everything away.
Next, I suggest making sure you have the basics: a suit, a couple of slacks, shirts, skirts, dresses, and shoes in the basic colors that can go with everything. Then slowly add colors or patterns in key pieces like slacks, shirts, skirts, and shoes. Keep in mind when you shop, you don’t have to buy everything at once. The stores will always be there and offering great styles and colors. Also, watch what people wear at the office or in meetings and take note of what you like and don’t like. Ask them where they got what they are wearing or where they shop – especially if they have the same build or frame as you. It can help take headaches out of shopping because you know that store or brand will fit you. Don’t forget accessories like jewelry, pocket squares, belts, shoes and glasses can elevate an outfit. If you tend to wear the same shirts and slacks to the office, have fun with different heel weight or loafer or even belts. Simple details can change an outfit (for the better).
Q. I once worked with a CEO of a Fortune 500 company who often wore a black belt with brown shoes. It drove me nuts! What are some common fashion mistakes you see business professionals make?
MZ: The most common mistake I see with business professionals is their clothes don’t fit properly. Clothes are either too tight or too loose and it makes them look unprofessional or sloppy. Many people get hung up on only wearing a certain size but each brand fits so differently that you may wear a different size from store to store.
Q. Summer is coming. How do you look professional but stay cool at the same time?
MZ: Natural fibers are the key. Cottons, linens, and even very lightweight wools breath and allow air to pass through (especially for suits, slacks, and shirts). A lot of performance fabrics or brands have finishes that whisk moisture away and I recommend them as well. If you sweat a ton, no matter what you wear, keep an extra shirt or two at the office so you can change. Sometimes you can’t help but sweat when its 115 degrees outside.
Q. Business presenters usually move around and may sweat a little. Often, they have lavaliere microphone wires strung inside their jackets. They may need a pocket for a presentation clicker. Given all of these possibilities, what do you suggest for their attire?
MZ: I strongly suggest you wear a jacket or suit that you can move around in and that isn’t too tight. A higher armhole on a jacket allows for more movement vs. a larger armhole. Wear something that is lighter weight vs. a heavy fabric – it will move easier. Also, when shopping, practice walking around or moving your arms to ensure the clothing you are buying is comfortable and not restricting.
Q. Presenters are often on-stage and this poses a unique challenge for women. What are your thoughts on appropriate dress length?
MZ: I strongly suggest wearing dresses or skirts to the knee or longer. Also, wear stockings or tights if appropriate. If you are unsure, wear slacks. You want the audience to focus on your face and what you are saying vs. a wardrobe malfunction.
Q. Speakers may need to travel. When you arrive at your destination, you might find that your perfect speaking outfit is a wrinkled mess. Any thoughts on fabrics that pack well?
MZ: Clothes will wrinkle and some more than others. Many brands advertise wrinkle free or resistant shirts, tops, and slacks. I would start there. Another option is better quality wool suits or jackets. To look good and presentable, it’s going to cost some money and investing in yourself is worth it. It doesn’t mean you have to fork over thousands of dollars, but certain pieces go a long way. I would avoid linen or lightweight cottons. They tend to wrinkle more.
Polyester or synthetic blends are great options to avoid wrinkles. One last resort would be to invest in a good travel steamer and steam your clothes when you get to your destination. It may take 15-20 minutes, but you will feel like a million bucks knowing you look ironed and polished.
Q. When a speaker knows they will be video recorded, do you have any suggestion regarding colors or patterns to stay away from?
MZ: I would avoid white shirts – they can be stark and glow on camera. I would also avoid small patterns or designs, they tend to vibrate and move on-screen, which can be very distracting. Also, keep accessories and make-up subtle. You want the viewer to focus on your face and what you are saying instead of your loud tie, pocket square, lip color or eye shadow. You want people to remember what you said and not to be known for your neon necklace.
ABOUT OUR GUEST
Mary Zarob is the owner of Q. Contrary in Phoenix (3188 E. Indian School Road), which offers bespoke tailoring, image consulting, personal shopping, and alterations to help men and women look and feel their very best. Before opening her own business, Mary was a designer for Macy’s and Calvin Klein Jeans. She studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.