Personal presentation is how you portray and present yourself to other people. It includes how you look, what you say, and what you do, and is all about marketing YOU, the brand that is you.
What others see and hear from you will influence their opinion of you. Good personal presentation is therefore about always showing yourself in the best possible light.
We all know that you only get one chance to make a first impression. Most of us are probably also aware that it takes quite a long time to undo that first impression—and that if it is negative, we may never get the chance to do so. This page explains some of the skills involved in making a good first impression—and then continuing to impress over time.
Understanding Personal Presentation
Personal presentation is about you and how you present yourself to others.
This includes both in everyday situations and when under pressure, for example, at job interviews. It is best thought of as a form of communication, because it always involves at least two people—the person presenting themselves (you) and the person seeing and hearing you.
Personal presentation covers what other people both see and hear. It includes how you look, what you say, and what you do. It therefore requires a wide range of skills, from improving your personal appearance to your communication skills.
However, all these aspects start from one place: you.
To present yourself well and confidently, you need to believe in yourself—or at least, be able to act as if you do.
Perception is Truth
People who present themselves as confident will be perceived as such by others.
There is also plenty of evidence that once we start acting as if we are confident, we generally feel more confident too.
Confidence—but not arrogance—is a very attractive trait. Having a justified belief in yourself and your abilities helps other people to be confident in you too.
Good personal presentation therefore requires good self-esteem and self-confidence. It means that you have to learn about yourself, and understand and accept who you are, both your positives and your negatives, and be comfortable with yourself. This does not, however, mean that you believe that there is nothing that you can improve—but that you are confident in your ability to achieve, and know how to overcome your flaws.
Paradoxically, therefore, personal presentation is actually not about being self-conscious or overly concerned with what others think about you. People who present themselves well generally do so because they believe in themselves, rather than because they are worried about what other people think. These concepts are closely related to Personal Empowerment.
A complete picture—and a cycle
Personal presentation is about conveying appropriate signals for the situation and for the other individuals involved.
People who lack self-esteem and confidence may fail to convey their message effectively or fully utilise their skills and abilities because of the way they present themselves. However, by improving your communication skills and reducing barriers to understanding, you may also improve your self-esteem and confidence.
Our pages: Communication Skills, Barriers to Communication and Improving Self-Esteem provide more information.
Areas of Personal Presentation
Improving personal presentation therefore requires a look at several different areas.
Self-esteem and self-confidence – how you feel about yourself and your abilities
Personal appearance – how you look, and how other people see you
Non-verbal communication – your body language, voice and facial expressions
Verbal communication – how you speak and use your words to make an impression
Behaviour – how you behave more generally, including politeness.
Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence
Self-esteem and self-confidence are closely related, but not quite the same thing.
Self-esteem is how you see and value yourself.
Self-confidence is believing in or having faith in your ability, rather than yourself as a person.
Neither self-esteem nor self-confidence are static. They vary as a result of numerous factors, including different situations and the presence of different people, personal stress levels and the level of change. Low levels of self-esteem are often associated with low levels of confidence, but those with good self-esteem can also suffer from low confidence.
To improve your self-esteem and self-confidence, spend time thinking about how you value yourself. Remind yourself of what is good about you, and learn to manage the highs and lows of self-esteem. In particular, try to avoid being affected too much by others’ opinions about you.
It is also worth practising coming across as confident even when you are not, because those who appear confident are not only perceived as confident, but often actually become more confident.
See our pages on Improving Self-Esteem and Building Confidence for more discussion, tips and advice on this area.
Personal Appearance and Non-Verbal Communication
Personal appearance is the way that you dress and take care of your general appearance.
Much as we may hate the idea that appearances matter, this is an important factor in personal presentation. Whether you like it or not, others will make judgements about you based on how you look, which includes how you dress and your accessories. It is therefore worth taking time to think about what messages you are sending to others in the way that you dress.
Case study: The ‘gravitas bag’
Louise was a young graduate, working in government department. She had been working there about two years, and had just started working for a new boss, a woman just a few years older than her.
One day, on the way to an important meeting, Louise’s carrier bag, in which she was carrying her notebook and pens, broke on the bus. Her boss laughed, but said to her, carefully,
“You know, you ought to think a bit about how what you wear and carry affects what people think about you. I’m not sure it gives quite the right impression to wander into a meeting with pens and books spilling out of a split carrier bag—that’s why I keep a briefcase in my cupboard for the days when I’ve worn a backpack into work. This may sound stupid, but I always feel that people may be judging me because I’m both female and quite young. I don’t want to give them any reason to doubt my professionalism.”
Neither did Louise. The next weekend, she went shopping. On the Monday, she proudly showed her boss a new handbag and matching briefcase—her ‘gravitas bag’, as she described it.
Your personal appearance is closely related to the body language, gestures and other non-verbal messages that you use.
Many people are unaware of how they are affected by body language, and also how they are affecting others. By being aware of positive and negative non-verbal signals, you can improve your image and the way people perceive you.
There is more about these ideas in our pages on Personal Appearance and Non-Verbal Communication, including specific pages on Body Language and Face and Voice.
Verbal Communication and Effective Speaking
What you say and how you say it are both important aspects of how you are perceived by others.
Verbal communication is all about the words that you choose. Those who are good at verbal communication understand the impact of their particular choice of words and choose the right words for the situation and the audience. They are skilled at getting their message across to others and ensuring that it has been received.
See our pages on Verbal Communication for more.
Good communicators also use their voices effectively to convey their feelings, and to influence their audience. Your voice says a lot about you and learning how to use it more effectively has many benefits. There are a number of aspects to your voice, including accent, tone, pitch and volume. Some of these are easier to change than others, but it is worth thinking about how each of these affects your audience, so that you can learn to use your voice more effectively.
See our pages Effective Speaking and Non-Verbal Communication: Face and Voice to learn more.
How you behave, and not just how you speak, will leave a strong impression on others.
For example, if you are habitually late, you may give other people the impression that you do not value their time. Good time management skills can therefore be helpful in giving the right impression—as well as enabling you to work more efficiently.
See our pages Time Management and Avoiding Distractions for some ideas of to improve your time management skills.
More crucially, your general politeness—to everyone, and not just people who ‘matter’—will create an important impression about how you value others. This is an essential element of personal presentation. It pays to consider your manners.
See our page How to be Polite for more.
Further Reading from Skills You Need
Learn more about the key communication skills you need to be a more effective communicator.
Our eBooks are ideal for anyone who wants to learn about or develop their interpersonal skills and are full of easy-to-follow, practical information.
It is almost certainly impossible to overestimate the importance of personal presentation, especially in creating a good first impression, but also in giving a longer-term view of yourself.
Improving some fairly basic communication skills and increasing your self-awareness will improve your ability to present yourself well. Knowing that you are more likely to say and do the right things, and look the part, will help to increase your confidence. All these will, in turn, help to ensure that you give the right impression.
This is especially true in more formal situations, culminating in improved communication and therefore better understanding.