L = Look Good in d.e.L.i.v.e.r.y. Dress professionally for a good public speaking impression.

This article is part three of a series using the acronym D.E.L.I.V.E.R.Y. and next will be I=vocal Interferences. I look forward to hearing how this content helped you. Feel free to reach out to me with your ideas or accessing my public speaking training.

Over 30 years teaching public speaking, I developed 8-tips using the acronym D.E.L.I.V.E.R.Y. to improve public speaking skills.  Previous articles covered ‘D’ for Distractions, ‘E’ for Extemporaneous and speaking notes. The 3rdacronym point is “L” = LOOKING GOOD, referring to an intentional and purposeful self-presentation for maximum professional perception.

Many studies have proven non-verbal messages communicate louder than words.  As your stand before your audience, they immediately begins evaluating your non-verbal impression.  While that interpretation is subjective, you control many influential choices.  If your personal presentation is contradictory or confusing, the audience will focus on the non-verbal first and it may become an uphill effort to reverse any negative conclusions. There are things you can do to present a good impression!

“Looking Good” is about communicating your best non-verbal message.  While there are elements you do not control such as gender, age, colors, and other physical traits (I call these non-choice elements).  It’s your choice elements where you can influence a positive impression.  This includes:

  1. DRESS is the first main evaluated component.
  • Do you care about this speech? The audience will assess if you took time to present yourself well.  This can be a combination of factors below, including wearing attire that is professional or upscale, and tailored to the audience and setting.
  • Clean and neat. Clothing with issues never impresses. Freshly pressed and clean clothes vs. wrinkled ones will give a better impression. It’s important to wear clothes without holes, not overly worn out (i.e., age ‘pilling’ or rubbed off, and other clothing age issues), well-fitting, limited or no visible dandruff or pet hair, clean unscuffed shoes and not out-of-date.
  • Not too casual. The easiest way to dress is not the strongest message. Casual attire has the lowest potential of communicating a professional I recommend presenters never wear blue-jeans, shorts, mini-skirts, t-shirts, and especially not “sweats” or work-out attire, or the trend towards yoga pants as an outfit.  Definitely never wear casual attire if you are selling, persuading, or seeking money, even if the audience is all casual.
  • Look “put together” such as coordinating color combinations and accessories for a look that’s thought-through and ‘well-put-together’. It looks neater to tuck in loose shirts.
  • Wear a jacket!!! The jacket is arguably THE one piece of clothing which strongly communicates a professional” message. The jacket communicates “professional” because no one else wears it.  A professional jacket is even more recommended for women who otherwise do not have a standard suit.  Dresses for ladies are nice, and adding a jacket accelerates a professional look. A new trend is for experts to wear casual clothing under a $300+ suit jacket, but this works only if their credibility is already clearly established.  Obviously, I think a suit jacket helps communicate a professional non-verbal message.
  • Modesty generally means not being overly revealing or sexualized for an initial positive impression, especially to other women.
  • Don’t wear a hat unless it’s outfit-coordinated and dressy, or religious. Otherwise, hats are too casual and the older generation may perceive wearing a hat indoors as rude.
  • Group norm dressing means wearing clothing similar to the industry standard. For instance, there are still a few industries that require formal business attire, such as in the financial, engineers, legal, political, and educational businesses.

In summary consider wearing clothing that helps you communicate the strongest message.  Beyond clothing, also consider:

  1. Hair. Your face is surrounded by hair and gives a first impression.  It’s important to be neat and controlled and non-distracting.  Hair should be neat and combed. If long, pull your hair back out of your face so the audience can see your eyes and facials expressions.  Further, don’t flip long hair or move it around as it could be construed as silly.  Beards should be neat and trimmed.
  • Accessories considerations includes.
  • Jewelry is often best in limited quantity, leaning towards classy vs. gaudy. The best impression may be a limited use of fine jewelry.
  • Be careful about anything you might touch or move distractingly. As discussed in the “D=Distractions”, don’t touch or play with items that are loose such as glasses, rings, and bracelets as it can appear nervous. It may be wise to avoid wearing items you might touch distractingly.
  1. Women’s makeup is personal; however, consider that stage lighting can wash out faces and create shine. A heavier eye-liner and blush can help women, and it’s a good idea not to wear a color close to your skin tone.

Summary:  Consider what your non-verbal choices are saying.  There are many non-verbal messages, such as do you care about the presentation, are prepared, are professional, etc.  Dressing professionally is a silent request to be taken seriously.  Audience members respect obvious effort.  Consider the choices you control (i.e., clothing, jewelry, hair, etc.) to positively influence your audience impression.

Anyone can become a good speaker, but not by accident.  Speakers who Look Good take a step towards accomplishing good audience impressions.


This article is part three of a series using the acronym D.E.L.I.V.E.R.Y. and next will be I=vocal Interferences. I look forward to hearing how this content helped you. Feel free to reach out to me with your ideas or accessing my public speaking training.

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