Business Advice: Style vs Substance


In business everyone’s first priority should be making sure their ideas are solid. The long hours spent brainstorming, researching, and reworking a pitch or presentation have only one goal: to make sure the work is as thorough and fresh as possible. But the simple fact is that it won’t matter how good your pitch is if nobody is listening. It’s not just what you say, but how you say it.

We all know that dressing right for a job interview or meeting is important, but clothes are just the beginning. Whether you are selling yourself or your ideas, the right presentation can mean the difference between success and failure, between signing a new client and walking away empty-handed. One way to approach it is to think of it as putting on a show. Take a few hints from Hollywood on how to set the tone and achieve your goals!

Setting and Soundtrack

If the meeting is at your office, you have the home court advantage. Take some time to think about the impression you want to make.

    • If you want to dazzle them with some of your other clients but don’t feel comfortable name dropping, have your assistant pop in with an urgent message. You don’t have to return the call during your meeting but now your prospective client will be aware of some of the names on your call sheet.

If you want to set them at ease, make sure that the receptionist is prepped for their arrival and is all set to warmly welcome them. Providing refreshments while they are wait for you is a nice touch. If there’s a long walk from the parking garage to your office, you can even tell them to text you when they arrive and you can send an escort out to walk them in.

If the meeting is at their office, be on time to demonstrate your efficiency. Use the old Hollywood adage: “If you’re 5 minutes early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. And if you’re late, you’re fired.” If it’s possible to check out their office ahead of time, check out the dress code and then outfit yourself similarly to give the impression you’re a perfect fit.

If you are meeting in public, letting your prospective client or partner pick the spot demonstrates flexibility on your part. If you the setting is your choice, think about what atmosphere would complement your business. Noisy, lively and trendy where you can talk while having a quick drink? Or quiet, unassuming, and privately elegant where there will be no distractions? The choices are endless but everything means something, so give the location careful thought.


Dress for the job you want, not the one you have. It’s sounds easy enough, but yet again, it all depends on the details. A dark suit generally conveys a more serious, formal tone (which can be appropriate if you are working in finance, government or the legal professions), whereas a bright suit points to a more lively, creative sensibility. Forgo the suit in exchange for a stylish and fashionable dress or set of separates if the business you are meeting with likes to think of itself as modern and hip. Or keep it simple and casual, jeans and blouse, if they are a more laid back, small independent business that takes pride in being approachable.

Another way to think about what to wear is by deciding if you want your outfit to tell them who you are or to show them how much you have in common. If you’re not sure, do your research! Check out how others at their company dress. If you don’t the opportunity to stop by their office prior to your meeting, see if their company website has any pictures of the employees or office events. Another option is to study the look of someone whose career you admire and want to emulate.

In the end you’ll know you picked the right outfit by how it makes you feel, and that will add to your confidence and performance on the day.


This one is simple. Have your ideas and bullet points clearly worked out and memorized. If your pitch involves visual aids, such as a Power Point presentation, rehearse to make sure you’ve got all the technological glitches worked out. Prepare a joke, an anecdote or two, and a few relevant topics for small talk. And be prepared to improvise! If you’re nervous, practice with a friend or colleague until you feel comfortable.


Are you going into this alone or with some help? You may or may not have the final say when it comes to this question, but it’s helpful to be aware of what different set ups can convey.

Pitching alone can show your independence and competence. Going in with a partner can demonstrate how well you work with others. An assistant immediately gives you an air of authority and leadership. A whole team can turn a simple presentation into an event. If you have any say in the matter, consider your options and figure out what would work best given your goals for the meeting.

By setting the right tone,  you can make sure that every word you say has impact and that you, your ideas, or your thoughts will be so memorable that they can’t help but ask for more!