The Art of Persuasion Found In How You Look

Ideas. Insight. Inspiration.

The Art of Persuasion Found In How You Look

January 26, 2009 Persuasion 6

In this post, we continue on about how you look when speaking.  

I’m reminded of that Dilbert cartoon that says “There are four personality types:  Ugly Smart, Cute Smart, Ugly Stupid, Cute Stupid…you figure out which box you’re in.”  You look the way you look.  Yet there are aspects of your appearance that you have some control of, short of cosmetic surgery.  

It was in the early years of my speaking and training career that I learned to always dress a little nicer than the people in my audience.  (I still find occasion to point this out to some of my more casual audiences, and then I point at myself and add the comment, “So what does this say about you?”)   It’s not that hard to dress a little better than your audience.  And it really can make an impression.  The organizing ideal is to be ‘easy on the eyes.’   It’s a fact that people do judge a book by it’s cover and you never get a second chance to make a first impression.  If you dress a little nicer than your audience, it conveys the idea (true or not) that you are a successful person.  If you dress down from them, you may dismiss what you say because they feel superior to you.  This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it’s a useful guide for people who make presentations.  

Does the color of your clothing say anything worth hearing?   It surely can.  You can use color for effect in the clothing choices you make.  To convey authority, image consultants say to wear dark colors, or the colors found in uniforms (Navy, black, olive.)  In the early years of my speaking career, at a time when people questioned my youthful appearance (How I long for those days, but alas, they appear to be gone!) I used the colors of authority to important effect.  I got tired of answering the question, ‘How old are you?’ as if wisdom comes from age and someone young as me couldn’t have anything worthwhile to say.  

Now I’m older.  (Not that old!)  I’ve changed it up.  I want to appear youthful to balance out my silvery hair.  After all, who wants to listen to some old guy who may be out of touch with a changing world!   As the audience gets younger, vitality is key.  To convey vitality, wear vibrant colors (think autumn leaves and primary colors.) 

There are occasions when you want people to take you seriously right off the bat.  Black is the darkest and most authoritative color.  On some people it doesn’t work at all.  If you already have a lot of gravitas, you need a lighter look.  If you have a tendency to seem a little lightweight in the gravitas department, because you’re very playful and easy to like, or have an irrepressible sense of humor that lightens people up whether they want to lighten up or not (Dr. K, I’m looking at you!)  you can ground yourself in black.  Of course, black for formal events ALWAYS is a good choice.  So is white.  

When you stand up in front of a group to speak, give them something to look at, but don’t make a spectacle of yourself!   

After you’ve had a look at what I have to say on the subject, I’d like to look at your comments!  I’ll be back in a couple of days with more about looking and speechmaking. 

Be well,


6 Responses

  1. J.D. Meier says:

    I like your points on the colors and the dressing “up.”

    Thinking back, now I see the pattern. The speakers with the most presence dressed dark and formal.

    • @J.D. Meier,
      That said, there is something else to take into account. If you have a lot of natural gravitas, I recommend lightening up your appearance by wearing lighter colors and less formal wear. If you need gravitas because you are a playful presenter (which I am…if I’m not having fun, it’s not worth doing!) then you can dress dark and formal to balance that out.
      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Frank Cowley says:

    Thanks again Dr. K for the recent link to my site, and I have enjoyed reading your content here!

    The color thing really is important. Just this morning, I was in a meeting to sign a new lease agreement for office space. I carefully chose a crisply pressed red button down for the occasion. Why? Because red is striking and demands a level of attention, not afforded by other colors. I chose this because my email negotiations with the landlord suggested a strong personality, not given to negotiation. I got everything I wanted!

    On the other hand, the next time I need a concession for adding signage to the common area, I will likely choose a light blue or green- offering a more submissive approach, and suggesting that I require grace and mercy. In the end, I’ll get what I want then as well.

    So, does this sound like manipulation? Well, maybe – but my goal is not to deceive, but rather to use all the tools at my disposal for effective communication. The art of communication is FAR more than language. Body language, color, mannerism, tone, facial expression… it ALL works together, and will work FOR you or AGAINST you, depending completely UPON you.

    While our business is not focused on negotiation strategy or internal organization structure per se, we do incorporate this type of strategy into our models and teaching, for effective management.

    Great article!

    • @Frank Cowley,
      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment! Great examples of how you stack the communication deck in your favor, not to deceive, but to be as effective as possible!
      I hope you’ll continue to comment on my blog.
      Best wishes,

  3. danvier says:

    Should the color of a room in which one is to speak be taken into account when choosing the colors we wear at the presentation?

    • @danvier,
      Thanks for the comment/question!
      I admit, every chance I have to see a room in advance, I take it, and for just this reason. But you can’t always see the room in advance. To avoid competing with room colors, I stay away from patterns and stick to simple color schemes.
      I’m a playful presenter, so I can wear black without it being too authoritative. I find that a blue shirt goes nicely with hospital yellow, a favored color in many meeting rooms.
      The key, and you’re on to it, is to consider the impact of color in making your choice. As in all things with persuasion, stacking the deck in your favor is the smarter choice.

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