In a word, yes, because your audience will see you before they hear you. Therefore their first impression will be about how you look. Once you speak, your words and tone of voice will rapidly temper their opinion. However, once you’ve finished, the lasting impression you leave will remain affected by the image they remember. Weeks down the line, the mental image could well remain whereas the specifics of what you said will have almost disappeared. They will remember if you were “good”, if the presentation impressed them and whether or not they took action on your recommendation. And there will be a picture in their minds of how you looked.
In a presentation context, how you look refers to your overall visual image rather than how attractive you may be, with perhaps a few exceptions. Audience members respond to a number of factors including connection, content, structure, projected visuals, energy and presenter appearance. So yes, it is an important factor.
An accepted rule of presentation is to dress similarly to your audience, or one step up. This becomes complicated the bigger and more diverse an audience is. In such a case, take your cue from the context of the presentation itself. If you’re an Advertising Account Manager pitching an innovative advertising campaign , a colourful, slightly quirky style of dress is expected as it exudes creativity. If you’re a male Banker or Accountant presenting company results and projections, the gray suit, white shirt and conservative tie is appropriate as it exemplifies trust and stability.
Dressing one step up creates an impression of the presenter being in control. There is a psychological disconnect when the presenter is under-dressed compared to her audience. In the event of there being hostility in your audience and you are dressed one step below them, your attempts at establishing control of the situation could be that much harder as your credibility could be at stake.
There is, however, a twist in the tail. If you have a specific brand image, particularly one that you portray on your marketing materials, then people will expect to see you portrayed similarly to your published image. It is possible to have versions of your branded image which blends the 2 positions. The main point is that your physical image should never be ignored when presenting. It is important to put some thought in to who your target audience is, and then dress appropriately.
Just as your content needs to be about context and be adequately researched, so should every element of your presentation. The image segment extends to attire, jewelery, hair and makeup too.
A final tip: Plan your outfit for your next presentation a few days in advance. You may be able to haul out a iron and quickly press a crumpled suit, but cleaning off the cream spilled on your sleeve a month ago could be more complicated. Dressing well shows your audience respect. It’s the first step toward creating a strong connection.