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Appearance matters

    Formally dressed male professional adjusting his shirt sleeves

    Appearances matter. We all know that. Or we should.

    Think about how you warm – or not – to a job applicant appearing for interview, to a salesperson who you’ve never met before as they pitch their product or service, or to a new boss saying their first hellos. 

    How much were you influenced by their manner: the way they walked into the room, how they were dressed, how they stood, what they did with their hands, or even how they shook your hand? And what part did eye contact and facial expression play in their delivery? Did they smile and engage you, and those around you, with their eyes?  Or did they appear nervous, and spend too much time lost in their notes, or staring at the floor? 

    And what of their delivery? Fluency matters, of course, but did their assertions sound confident and convincing? How was the cadence of their voice? Was their delivery warm and lively – or did they speak robotically, indistinctly, or in a dull monotone?

    Putting their appearance and speaking style together: was it consistent or inconsistent with what they were telling you?

    Now over to you

    Turn these questions on yourself and your own performance when you’re next preparing to deliver an important message to an audience.

    Remember, it’s not all about the words. The sound of your delivery as you speak those words will be a major element of the impact you make; how well your audience hear and follow your argument; and the extent to which they remember much afterwards, let alone act on it.

    One really effective way you can super-charge your delivery is by replicating the patterns of everyday  speech. Most of us don’t speak normally as if we’re reading from the phone directory or dishwasher service manual, yet somehow many of us do slip into that mode when we’re up in front of a large audience.

    So, imagine you’re relating a memorable or amusing story in a conversation with just two or three others over the water cooler, or in the bleachers. 

    And next time you rehearse, experiment with varying your pace, emphasis and tone, to suit the message and value of what you’re actually saying in the moment.

    Better still, make a video recording of yourself rehearsing that delivery, and watch it back as if you were someone else on the receiving end. And ask someone you trust to watch it too and give you honest feedback.

    Were you convinced? Were they? How could you improve both your appearance and your delivery?

    By Peter Coë

    November 8, 2023 

    Peter was a business journalist and BBC TV news anchorman for many years. He also has nearly 30 years’ experience as a speaker coach.

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