How Do You Communicate Your Ideas?(10) Personal Appearance and Delivering Your Speech

Personal appearance is the way you look when you step out of your home. It includes all your outside accessories or adornments and accoutrements. Specifically in the speaking and presentation arena, personal appearance refers to the way the audiences with their expectations of appropriateness, see and evaluate the way you look . The ways you look is all about your outward appearance of clothing, grooming, and make-ups.

Physical appearance on the other hand, involves your body language in totality: your head movement, feet movements, hand movements, legs shaking, postures, gestures, gait, stance, facial features, and all other physical elements of your personality. These communicate a lot more than your personal outward appearance that are determined by clothing, attire, and make-ups.

CLOTHING AS COMMUNICATION AND SPEECH

Personal appearance is simply the ways you appear on the outside to your audience members.

Personal appearance is speech. It is specifically speech communication in video and visual modes. Your personal appearance speaks to the visual and video modes of human communication; not to written mode, unless you have alphabets as tattoos on the outside of your body, so much so that it is visible to audience members.

Clothing is a symbol as well as a sign. It can also be an artifact, as are all other artifacts that are worn as adornments and accoutrements.

In terms of personal appearances, clothing and all other accoutrements make the image of the public speaker. What the speaker wears, be it suit, casual attire, culture-specific outfit, professionally clad attires, uniforms, even the colors, lengths, sizes, and so on, all send messages to the audiences.

Say you are speaking to a group of widows on money management. What is the right and best attire? Blue suit? Dark grey? Brown? Black? Do you go casual? And tieless?

Clothing and all other decorative wears and accessories say a lot about us.

Clothing can do a lot for us, too.

We advertise who we are and what we stand for in our clothing.

Our outward appearances speak to our inward sentiments and moods.

We dress for success. We dress to attract. We dress to enchant. We dress to lure. We dress to seduce. We dress to win. We dress to mourn. We dress to celebrate. We dress to marry. We dress for burial. We dress to church, and so on.

A public speaker who puts on a tie and a three piece suit in an informal rally with mineworkers or timber workers is not going to have the same impact with the content of his speech no matter how much he or she gestures to be “one of you.” And, irrespective of his or her vocal/voice declaration of, “We are all in this together,” he/she would alienate a larger, if not all of his/her audience members.

YOU ARE WHAT YOU WEAR

Clothing communicates. How we attend to our clothing appearances communicates comfortableness, familiarity, deference, respectability, cultural savviness, self awareness, flexibility, and social competence.

Clothing influences perceptions of us.

Clothing suggests approachability. That is the ways we carry ourselves with our attires or clothing allow others to approach or distance themselves from jus. Our clothing speaks to our openness or distance, aloofness, and distancing behaviors to others, according to communication researchers (See Mark Knapp and Edward Hall, (2002) Nonverbal Communication In Human Interaction.

A businessperson who is very comfortable with his or her audience of prospective investors can readily unbutton his or her jacket in order to be “chummy” and “homey” with the audience members. In that instance he or she may decide to speak in a very low and intimate conversational tone.

Conversely, the same individual may choose to button up their jacket when delivering the outcome of the investment funding pitch to his or her own board of directors, as a sign of respect and decorum of the business class. Buttoning up in that instance communicates formality and appropriate corporate mannerism that is expected, and most oftentimes rewarded.

But in celebration of the win and jubilating over the huge sum of money raised in the investment funding pitch, the business person at a barbecue will most likely dress in a short sleeve shirt and a khaki pant with a pair of sneakers. Here, the climate, the situation, the environment dictates casualness, even with the bosses and board of director members in attendance.

PERSONAL APPEARANCE AND IDEAS PRESENTATION

Personal appearance aids to communicate your ideas because clothing is communication. The attires you wear speaks to your sensitivity to the audiences’ values and expectations.

Your outward appearance sends messages to the audience that you are ready, neat, well groomed, and conscious of your image and that you regard the occasion as important enough for you to spend extra time and money to look presentable. Joe Navarro, a former FBI agent observes,

“Clothing can be descriptive, such as revealing when people are celebrating or mourning, if they are of high or low status, whether they conform to social norms or are part of a sect (e.g., Hasidic Jew, Amish farmer, or Hare Krishna). In a way, we are what we wear….

“Obviously, because we have certain employment rules that require specific attire and since we make conscious choices when it comes to clothing, we need to be careful in our assessment of what it signifies, After all, the guy standing outside your door dressed in a telephone repairman’s uniform just might be a criminal who purchased or stole the outfit to gain access to your home.” [What Every Body Is Saying (2008), p. 98]

A man who adjusts his shirtsleeves, plays with his cuff links, or fixes his tie knot while on the podium, readying himself to deliver a speech is sending a thousand messages without uttering a sound. For one, he could be flirtatious, drawing attention to his expensive cuff links, showing off his tie, trying to cover his Adams pie, making sure his venal area of the chest and neck is properly covered, trying to manage his speaking anxiety and apprehension, insecurity, nervousness, cautiousness, and so on.

His on-stage mannerism could be distracting to many and thus take away from his credibility and positive evaluation from a section of the audience.

PERSONAL APPEARANCE AND CREDIBILITY

Being presentable communicates credibility.

Credibility is one of the most critical and crucial factors in communication. Several communication scholars have identified credibility dimensions to include composure, character, charisma, competence, trustworthiness and dynamism [See My “Factors of Leadership Credibility.” in Medium Series]

I assert that your personal appearance adds to your credibility. Credibility however, is a subjective criterion in public speaking, as well as in employment performance evaluations, especially when the stakes are high among competing interests and stakeholders.

If you want to win your audience over to your objective for speaking; or if you want to appeal to their sentiments for inviting you to speak, you have to wear what is coherent and congruent with the message you are sending. They say cloth makes the person. That person includes the audiences. They want to affirm and reaffirm who they are in its totality, while in that speaking event. This is not pandering. It is effective communication with your audience. They are the end users of your message, product, services, ideas, policies-turned-actions. You speak for them. You wear for them. You do for them what they want, if you want to influence their behaviors toward you and toward the content/your topic.

Remember that audience’s judgment of your speech content starts first with who they are and what they want from the speaking engagement or event.

For you to gain and retain the audience’s attention you must appeal to their aesthetic sense.

You may want to use your attire to send a specific message to an individual or to a group in time and place; but that may offend a lot of other people. So, know your audience.

Cloth is prescriptive. It is culturally scripted. It is professionally ascribed. Clothing is easily manipulated to suit a time, place, context, individuality, personality, culture, society, and/or profession. Remember to know your audience. And, dress appropriately.

HYGIENE AND CLEANLINESS

Personal appearance also refers to cleanliness, tidiness, and being hygienic. Your personal appearance sends a thousand messages. Others may have a totally different meaning from what you intended with the make-up, your lip stick, your nail polish, the heels of your shoes, your hairdo, the colors of your clothing or dress, and whatever it is that you use to accessorize.

Personal hygiene sends messages. People will make assumptions about our personal appearance as indicative of our mental and emotional states.

Your audience may think of you as mentally incapable to speak before them if you are not well groomed. A mentally depressed speaker will be incoherent.

When the weight of the world is on one’s shoulders, grooming and preening are the last things to worry about. This will show if one is speaking to an audience. But such personal appearance might be persuasive if one is a newly-freed, or recently-released prisoner of war from captivity; or a revolutionary of sort.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

Clothing and all its accessories and ancillaries are critical to all forms of human public communication and must be studied and understood by all public speakers.

The clothes one wears to a public speaking event as a speaker, affects one’s credibility as a public communicator.

Preening and grooming constitute clothing in communication arena. Both must be attended to as part of the overall personal appearance if one is to be perceived a credible speaker.

Remember, public speaking is not about you. It is all about the audience

A public speaker must be seen to be sensitive and adaptive to the expectations of the audiences.

The public presenter of ideas must be seen as credible, approachable, clean, knowledgeable about the topic, the audience, the situation, and be appropriately attired for the occasion.

You must dress to match the event and the message. Your message must be congruent with the event.

I have concentrated on clothing as a metaphor to all other accessories we use to adorn our outside selves while appearing in the public. You may choose to look at all others like earrings, bangles, bracelets, cosmetics, perfumes, make-ups, shoes, scarves, eyeglasses, etc. They all come under clothing for me in this article.

A caveat: We are not always what we appear to be in our clothes. I have seen a well-dressed homeless man. I have also seen a janitor in three-piece suit. The occasions may demand of us to dress the part, without necessarily being a part.

CALL TO ACTION

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