Build the Picture

Manufacturing Millionaires

Sherry Knight

President & CEO at

Madam L’Image, my nemesis enters the room and takes the stage. She is dirty looking, smelling and walks slowly with a bit of a gimp. People shy away from her – in fact, if she sits beside them, people have been known to get up and move 3 seats over.

Dressing for success has changed over the years! Today, dressed up may mean clean jeans and T-shirt. It’s not the outfit that makes such a difference as what you are trying to convey with the outfit.

Madam L’Image eventually disrobes – yes, in front of the audience, to reveal me – a business person in a skirt, blouse and jacket, and then comes out the high heels. There is a purpose in my attire. Each time I present as Madam L’Image I help an audience see that regardless of the outside we all have heart on the inside. And our job is to look beyond the dirt, the smell and the appearance of a lack of self confidence to see the beauty of each individual – their heart!


Regardless of what you wear you want to think about your audience first and then you want to dress just a little above how they will be dressed. Too much above and you may be seen as aloof and self important. Too much below and you may be seen as not having the knowledge and skill to support this group.

When you take the stage – whether that is a mike and podium (or not) on an elevated stage in front of hundreds or stepping up to begin your workshop of 5 people you want them to know you have something to offer them. Initially, Madam L’Image does not – I rarely get asked to do this presentation in front of the people I look like. I am shown the door, I am asked to leave and people have shunned me by not letting me join their conversations – all because I am different!

Remember, people make decisions about whether they want to engage with you in the first 2 seconds – that’s based only on what they see. Or, even scarier is the newest research indicates it’s in the blink of an eye – 1/10 of a second!


Ask whomever is engaging you what the appropriate dress might be and then dress accordingly.

A few hints to consider to gain more credibility even today in this “dressed down” world:

  • Long sleeves give you more credibility than short – even if the long sleeves are rolled up
  • A collar gives you more credibility than no collar
  • A jacket gives you more credibility than no jacket or even a sweater
  • Jewelry is a tricky one – from a credibility perspective it is best kept to a minimum – anything dangling takes the audiences’ attention away from the message you are delivering
  • Polished shoes give you more credibility than scuffed shoes and run down heels cause people’s brains to think you too might be run down
  • Clean and a reasonable length for finger nails gives you greater credibility – if you wear polish be sure it is not chipped and not too bright – you want people paying attention to what you are saying rather than your nails


Regardless of how you choose to dress, remember this one thing. You need to grab people quickly as often you only have a short time with them – generally less than an hour if you are delivering a keynote. With a workshop you will have anywhere from an hour to several days. Still, it is those first few moments that make the difference. Just as important as having your first line of delivery ready is being dressed to not detract from the message you want to deliver.

As Madam L’Image I have to work really hard to gain back the credibility and have people listen to me after I have shown them my initial level of:


  • Socio economics
  • Success
  • Education
  • Finesse
  • Intelligent
  • Trustworthy
  • Status
  • Competence

Do you want more information about making presentations?

That’s quite a list that people make a decision about in 1/10 of a second! You may be speaking in order to help your audience with a specific need. Always remember, because as humans we have needs, we are always looking to those in front of us to know if we can trust them to help us.

Another consideration you might have is to ask ahead about the backdrop. Why is that important? I saw a Tedtalk which was excellent, yet it was hard to pay attention because all I saw was a talking head. The individual dressed in black, the same colour as the backdrop. It was most disconcerting and although I remember nothing about the talk, I do remember the talking head!

You may have read to this point thinking this is ___ (you fill in the word), I get to dress however I want and no one should care. You are absolutely right! Just consider what you have read if you want to connect quickly with your audience and have them know you have a valuable message to deliver.

Anything that can go wrong often does – the heat isn’t working properly, the group next door is LOUD, the introducer was poor, you name it. There is a myriad of things that can thwart your excellent presentation. So, why not prepare well with those things you have control over – how you look and your presentation content?

It’s in your hands!


Sherry Knight

President & CEO


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