After Hours

10 ways to present yourself more professionally

Whether you're delivering a speech, running a meeting, or interviewing for a job, these tried-and-true tricks can make you come across as confident and professional.

So you're getting ready for that big presentation. Your PowerPoint is perfect, you know your facts, and you're ready to go. Only thing is... you're lacking that certain polish to tip the scales in your favor.

When it comes to interviews, presentations, important meetings, and any situation where you need to make a stellar impression, looking professional is just as important as being professional. But looking professional means more than just having a top-of-the-line briefcase, Italian shoes, the best laptop money can buy, and a bright smile that would shame a Hollywood celebrity. In this article, I'm going to share some tips you may never have thought of in the course of your career. Chances are, one (or more) of these tips will help you win over a crowd, land that job, or impress the higher ups.

1: Dress the part

Standard business fare most often will do for your average meeting. But when you raise the bar of importance, you must match it with your personal appearance. And this doesn't stop at your neck. Not only should you be wearing your best suit, you should make sure you are properly groomed. Don't think your hair can go "one more week" before you get it cut. And get it cut a couple of days before the big to-do. And your clothing shouldn't just look good; it should also be comfortable. The last thing you want is to be in front of a crowd and notice your pants are too tight or too loose or your shoes are killing your feet. If you have to wear heels, don't wear heels that are too high. And do NOT forget antiperspirant. Now you may be thinking these are all very obvious tips, but people can (and often do) overlook the obvious.

2: Warm up

You may not know this but your body, and your ability to present yourself, is directly affected by its state of being. If you get up to do a presentation or run a crucial meeting and your muscles are cold and tight, it will reflect in your posture and presentation. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to stretch your muscles to get them warm and used to moving. Stretch your arms, legs, back, and neck. With relaxed muscles your presentation will come across smoother and more relaxed. You should also give your voice plenty of chance to warm itself up before you start.

3: Fuel yourself

Have you ever been in a meeting or interview and had your stomach growl so loudly that everyone in the room heard it? You may think this would be a fun moment where everyone will get a chuckle. It's not. It's unprofessional. Make sure you eat before you present your material. But don't overdo it. What is worse than a gurgling stomach is a noisy backside or the need to break for Mother Nature. Sure, you can include time in your presentation for bathroom/stretch breaks. But if you are in an interview and that stomach makes itself known, it will look less-than-professional. And fuel is not just about quieting an other-wise noisy digestive system. You also need plenty of fuel to get you through the process. If you don't take in enough calories, your body will let you know -- which will not go unnoticed.

4: Choose your props carefully

I have seen presentations that looked horribly amateur simply because the speaker was carrying a McDonald's coffee cup as he spoke or a whiteboard or easel that didn't work. When putting together the pieces for your presentation, don't leave out any details. If you need a drink (and you should have water with you), make sure your water glass (and pitcher, if you drink a lot) is clean, simple, and classy. Do not use a sippy cup or sports water bottle. If your presentation requires an easel or whiteboard, be sure that everything is solid, works as it should, and looks new or at least clean and sturdy.

If you depend upon handouts for your presentation, make sure they're in collated, pre-stapled, and stacked neatly or distributed to each audience member's chair. The less you have to interrupt your presentation or meeting to get everything in order, the better. And don't skimp. If you shell out for a cheap easel or whiteboard, you might find yourself fighting with them more than you should. Pay for solid tools and you will get solid results.

5: Spell check

It amazes me when I am a participant in a lecture, interview, presentation, or meeting and I see spelling errors in handouts or resumes or on a whiteboard or overhead. The fastest way to lose attention or a job prospect is to have spelling errors littered throughout your work. An audience or interviewer may forgive minor or tricky sentence structure issues, but spelling? No way. If you don't employ spell check in your word processor -- do. If you know you're plagued with spelling problems, have someone check your presentations, resume, or handouts.

6: Turn your phone on silent mode

Your audience doesn't need to know how many people call or text you, and there is nothing more unprofessional than stopping your presentation or interrupting your interview to answer a phone or a text. There are few exceptions to this rule. If your wife is about to give birth, that's one of the few. If that is the case (or if there is another, equally pressing need), explain the situation to your audience so they understand. Outside of extenuating circumstances, set the phone on silent or turn it off.

7: Watch your time

Remember that time is money. Not only are people paying you for your services, but your audience members have their own work to do. Stick to the allotted timeframe and you will always come out on top. And that doesn't mean end early. When a company pays for your time, it wants to get its money's worth. Don't shortchange it. And if you're in an interview, do NOT act as though you have something more important to do. You don't. The single most important thing you have going on is that interview. This also includes being on time. As a good rule of thumb, you should be prepared to GO at the slotted time. This does not mean you should ARRIVE at your starting time. Show respect by arriving early so you can be prepared to go on time.

8: Be prepared

This really holds true if you're using a laptop to run a presentation through a projector. Do not depend upon your host for anything (outside of the projector). Bring any possible connector you will need as well as a spare battery and your AC adapter for your laptop. You do not want to have your host scrambling around to find something to help you get your presentation off the ground.

Preparedness also includes making sure you have enough literature for your audience. Always bring more than you need. Find out ahead of time how many attendees are expected so you can make sure you bring more than enough supplies. And bring extra digital copies of your presentation. You never know whether, for some reason, the presentation will wind up corrupt on your PC. Bring your presentation on a CD and a flash drive just to be safe.

9: Know your audience

Do you remember some of the advice you were given in school about writing cover letters for your resume? Did you ever start a cover letter with "To whom it may concern..."? I didn't think so. So why would you begin a presentation without knowing your audience? This can be crucial to delivering a professional presentation or meeting. If you're giving a network presentation to a group of UNIX or Linux administrators, don't speak in Windows terms. If you're in front of a group of Windows administrators, don't insult them by bragging about how strong your UNIX kung fu is.

10: Don't be a comic

A little humor will go a long way to help connect to your audience. But don't use the event as a vehicle for your standup routine. You will look less like a professional and more like a clown. Sure, break the ice with a funny anecdote or relax the situation when too much information is offered at once. But you don't want to present yourself as a jokester or a comedian. You won't be taken seriously when serious is called for. And you're probably not as funny as you think you are. So leave the comedy to the professionals.

Other tips?

These simple tips can help you come across more professionally when giving presentations, running important meetings, or being interviewed. What other advice would you offer fellow TechRepublic members who want to present themselves more professionally?

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About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

42 comments
anewman1
anewman1

All of those points were great, but doing all of them with confidence is key! Whatever choices you make when going in for a job interview, go all in or not at all. This shows commitment. Good luck out there, everyone!

lovcom
lovcom

So there are very rare reasons to wear a suit and tie, in other words, to dress formally. And this is true even if you're meeting with the big dogs (CIO, COO, CEO). IT has lost it's pretense decades ago, and everyone knows it, and therefore the expectation is keep it "Steve Jobs" casual. I've been a developer for 34 years, and from what I've seen, the three piece suite and tie was ditched about 15-20 years ago. These days, all a business should care about is your experience, your skills, your certifications, basically your resume and reputation.

ejimenezp
ejimenezp

I would recommend avoiding any type of religious jewelry. Unfortunate religious prejudice does exist (although illegal) and you do not want to take a chance.

llandau
llandau

If an IT person meets you to help you get into their LAN or internet or ... Be kind. If an AV person meets you to help you with a microphone or getting your laptop projected to the big screen -- Listen to them. Every event venue has its own personality. Not listening to the "help" may mean you didn't hear them tell you were the mute button was on your mic. If you have never been to the town before and someone is picking you up at the airport or hotel, you may find out where the best place to eat is or what not to say to the new sponsor who just finished chemo and has a wig that doesn't look quite right so be careful what you say about her hair (true story). You may make a connection with the greater audience, but how you treat those who work with you as you are presenting can also make an important impression. These talented individuals can also say things about you after you are gone. They speak and deal with important people. They dealt with you didn't they?

jhon-deepak
jhon-deepak

To look as a professional you must be serious ,hard- worker(without hard work no one can be a complete professional), smart - worker,ability to solve various issues, good learner and a good listner. He/she should be active.And the most important thing is that he/she has the ability to do things better than others in a more efficient way.. thank you....//////////////

jeysubbiah
jeysubbiah

Whether it is a presentation or an intereview, dont forget to make eye contact with your audience. If it is an one on one interview keep you eye contact all the time; if it is smaller group make eye contact with everyone at least once- make them feel they are imporatant; if it is larger audience, still try to make contact with the audience. Another important thing is answering questions from the audience. Make sure to compliment the question and then try to rephrase the question before trying to answer the question. If you dont have the right answer, honestly admit it.

daniel
daniel

When writing an article, such as the one above, check your grammar, it is equally important as checking spelling. It is never proper to start a sentence with the word "and, but and or", these are conjunctions and are used to connect parts of a single sentence together. When giving presentations to professionals, we need to appear professional. I agree with most everything in the article, however when reading the article the gramattical errors jump out at me, especially when written by someone who is a writer.

TRgscratch
TRgscratch

I world add: #3A - use the restroom before starting the meeting I also caution on the use of too much jargon or acronyms - you know what they mean, but is your audience's understanding the same as yours?

tasosate
tasosate

I have always felt ashamed when a presenter is asked about an abbreviation or certain item on their slide and they don't know it. why put it there to begin with? When you are presenting anything, you are "the expert" so you better check up and know what you are talking about on each slide. Don't put anything there that you don't know. if it must be there, then do your homework with a little research

desmondploftus
desmondploftus

I believe the write of this article is either ex military or 50+ this is a classic 1980’s viewpoint, I am sorry but as a business man I trust someone a lot more that is not acting out of character than giving a crap about how tight there tie is. And you will find that when the Pokémon generation comes into power it will be even more relaxed. Hey Mark Zuckerberg made a couple million in sweatpants don’t believe me Google his name and all images you see is the opposite of what the writer describes. So boys and girls put those 80 records away and get with the program.

carlbdc
carlbdc

A few days ago, I had to make a presentation to a non profit that was interested in my group's services. I was told there would be 5 or 6 people there and I could do a powerpoint. When I arrived there were 40 people in the room and no way to do a PP. I use PP as an outline, so I switched to using my printout as speaking notes. Things went well. However, I've learned my lesson. From now on, I'm not only practicing with my PP, but also without it.

kfilius
kfilius

Presentation slides are only meant to support your presentation, so don't put to much information on them and avoid long lines of text since nobody will read it.

swtrader
swtrader

Not so much in a presentation but certainly in a job interview or even in a meeting, remember the tired old job interview advice: God gave you 2 ears and 1 mouth. Use them in that proportion.

whart57
whart57

British English and American English are not exactly the same, and it's surprising how many times a word the Brits and Yanks spell differently comes up in a presentation. And be careful with metaphors. A personal example was using "Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all" which to Brits signifies all the deadbeats of a Somerset village who break the back of a horse as they all try to hitch a ride on it - pretty good analogy of the way a successful project attracts the glory-seekers I thought - but "Uncle Tom" means something very different to an American audience. So which side of the Atlantic are your audience from - and join them.

LesNewsom
LesNewsom

Having sat through numerous powerpoints from ranking military personnel, anybody can make a mistake and so often, the presenter is not the creator. That being said, the person who looks like a fool is the presenter. Practicing, including reviewing the slides prior to presenting is paramount.

laseray
laseray

This stuff about clothes, and especially hair in my case, is very limiting. It shows the kind of dogma in people's minds and industry. Some of the greatest minds never paid much attention to that stuff at all. The people that do tend to be like that are more likely to be limited intellectually, creatively, and so forth. Let us go examine famous scientists and engineers and see how many of them always dressed properly. They would be considered dismal failures if that were really important. It is only important to people with very superficial outlooks on life. And those cannot be the most innovative in any field.

devshop
devshop

I was demo-ing the newest, latest, greatest features of our new sales software to a sales team who was still writing quotes using Excel and realized about two minutes in I had already lost them. Total deer-in-headlights response. I stopped my very-prepared presentation and simply asked "So what's your biggest challenge each day with the way you do your job now?" And then within the context of that question, and the ones that followed, showed them how the new system would fix each problem. Sometimes the audience needs to lead, simply because they're coming from a totally different start position. Stopping when I did turned a "bomb" into a long-term customer, so beware the stares!

timothy.retford
timothy.retford

Really great list... thanks for condensing a lot of principles down into a digestible checklist. The only comment I'd have is that it's slightly out of order: Knowing your Audience should come first and foremost because it trumps all others. Any exception to one of the other is usually justfied based on whom you're speaking to. For examples, there are cases where you should dress-down for your audience or where more levity is just want you need to get your points across to your audience.

EGM42
EGM42

Regarding spell-check: By all means use it, but turn off the feature that "corrects" your spelling errors automatically. Spell-checkers are not mind-readers. They do a great job of identifying character strings that are not words, but a lousy job of figuring out what word you really meant. Unless you want your audience to think you really don't know a barrier from a barrio or location from lactation (I've seen both of these), look at the list of suggestions and pick the right one or enter the correct word if it's not in the list. At first you may be amazed at how often the right word isn't at the top of the suggestion list. After a while you'll realize that this habit keeps lots of silly errors out of your presentations and documents.

necessaryevil
necessaryevil

I concur with making sure you aren't running on an empty stomach since the mind performs better with fuel but the other aspects are human nature and completely out of one's control. It would seem more helpful to help people learn to deftly handle those realities instead of asking them to some how control the body's natural responses and what it must do to keep itself in balance and working properly.

david.wilkes
david.wilkes

Which i obviously didnt do ... THEIR appearance ...

david.wilkes
david.wilkes

Dont forget the shoes ... first thing I look at .... learned this off my grandfather ... if they are smartly dressed with dirty/scruffy shoes then there appearance is probably superficial ...

Snak
Snak

There's nothing better than being able to see where your presentation falls over. Set up your video camera /camcorder/phone and record your presentation. Then watch it back making notes of bits you don't like - you may discover 'habits' that you are not really aware of (like scratching your nose when nervous, or some such) that you will be able to consciously overcome once you're aware of them. It will also help with deportment (ooh - I didn't realise I stooped so much, or walk about too much, or stand too rigid......)

APPIRITION
APPIRITION

Thank you for this candid, entertaining yet factual article. Yes, the empty stomach in church can be embarrassing, let alone in an interview.

u0107
u0107

Rehearse numerous times alone and when you are super confident about the content, the flow and the duration, rehearse now with a knowledgeable friend who does not hesitate to critique you to your face and whose opinion you value.

VMillan
VMillan

Thank you for the great article and the following comments. I would suggest to be very careful with the wording and the pronunciation when you are not native in the language of the presentation. Your audience is sharing with you their time and they are not there to learn "interlingua":

czekalca
czekalca

to engage your audience with eye contact. It doesn't matter how smart or professional you are if you're perceived as standoffish, too shy, or otherwise inadequate because you don't look at your audience. That's one of the first things I tell students, co-ops, and newbies--Look at your audience more than your notes!

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

Good advice overall. However, on the topic of clothing. Your clothing is part of your brand. You need to dress accordingly. A suit isn't a requirement -- Steve Jobs never wore suits to presentations. Neither did Bill Gates. Notice that Steve Ballmer tries to play the audience game (audience A gets the suit, audience B gets the sweater and open shirt) and comes across as wishy-washy. What is a necessity is to dress up from the part. For many of us, that means a suit. For others it can mean chinos and a golf shirt. What matters is that if you wear a suit -- wear a good one. If you wear a jeans wear crisp, clean, new jeans -- no rips (even if they cost more), no fading (even if it costs more). Just recognize that a suit says one thing about a person and jeans and a jacket says something else. Neither good nor bad -- just different. Choose your own weapons. Glen Ford http://www.glendford.com

dkatula
dkatula

To the women who may be reading this, we know that sometimes rooms can be very cold. Please save yourself embarrassment by always wearing a jacket or cardigan over a blouse, or wear a padded bra. I had to endure one presentation given by a woman who was obviously freezing. To this day I can't remember a thing she said because I was so distracted. I can't even imagine how the men reacted. Enough said.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

[i]These days, all a business should care about is your experience, your skills, your certifications, basically your resume and reputation.[/i] Most people judge others based on the first look; the thought is, if you don't care about your appearance, why should I expect you will care about the quality of the job I'm asking you to do. More than one consultant has lost a potential opportunity because he didn't consider how his appearance would reflect on the customer's perception of his skills.

aaronyoung767
aaronyoung767

I personally think that religious jewelry looks really nice and beautiful but while wearing them little precautions and care is needed. So to avoid any unwanted situations and issue we have to pay attention on certain things like laws and legal affairs.

ejimenezp
ejimenezp

Also avoid wearing those large Rapper dollar sign necklaces. :0)

william.ketcher
william.ketcher

He wasn't asking you to act 'out of character'. And 'trust someone'? Trust what? The idea is don't have anything distracting. And, finially, Mark Zuckerberg ALREADY has billions of dollars, and no boss - the rest of us have to play by the rules! Just try to make your next presentation in sweat pants and tell your boss, "well, Mark Zukerberg does it!" Yea, right. good Luck

n2add
n2add

I have seen Powerpoint presentations where the creator got so carried away with all the special effects that the substance of the presentation was lost. KISS should apply here.

lovcom
lovcom

Totally agree...but then what do I know? Been an IT consultant for 34 years all over the world ;-). Seriously though, you are correct. Too much on style and too little on substance. The highest paid and best skilled engineers I know often dress a mess. Some of them are millionaires and you'd never know it watching them walk in public. It's about the knowledge one has, folks.

daniel
daniel

Typically the most innovative in a field are not the people giving presentations. Nobody said your hair cannot be long, however even long hair needs to be trimmed and washed and combed etc. Throwing out the bias card, neither helps your case nor, helps a presentation go well. This article is about how to win an interview or a presentation. If you are feeling picked on because of something said, that is something inside of you that may need to be addressed. For the most part, unless you are in the class of Einstein, looking like Einstein is not going to get you the job, or the sales that your presentation is looking to get.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

was that you should take care in your appearance, not that you should change it to fit your audience's expectations.

lovcom
lovcom

Perhaps you should've asked THAT question BEFORE you invested in the purchase or construction of new software. Why whould you even present a solution before asking the users what they require? How they work?

lovcom
lovcom

My grandfather told me to not be superficial. He said not to judge others by their outward appearences. What matters is substance, not style.

desmondploftus
desmondploftus

I make presentations in loose clothes all the time and I seem to do pretty OK for myself, in fact I have fired a few customers before for that exact reason. They where worried about looks rather than services. I am in a position where I now can pick and choose my customers. But hey to each his own, today I am reviewing a few contractors for a government IT bid, I am going to look at there proposal not the clothes.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

He was trying to sell an established application to a new customer. Taking your advice to heart would have prevented the development of almost every general use software package available today. Sometimes you build based on speculation, not on demonstrated need.

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