Speak for Yourself

Claire Duffy's blog about public speaking and communication (in real life). Speak well, do well!

Keys to looking good and presenting well

Your  Appearance has a great impact on the audience and on your effectiveness as a communicator. Dressing well for the occasion is part of the performance.


Choosing your wardrobe means taking account of three things. One is that you need to feel comfortable, the second is your appearance should enhance your presentation. The third is you must look right for the event.
Naturally you have to combine all three into the one outfit.

Some simple rules will guide you.

Your clothing is a major rapport builder. Your clothing expresses your authority and your credibility. What is appropriate for the occasion and the audience? What time of day is it? Where is being held? What role do you occupy in relation to your audience? Who is watching you and how will they be dressed?

In general, being just a bit better dressed than the audience works well. If they are ‘smart casual’ you’ll be OK in a suit. If they are in jeans and T shirts, you can wear ‘smart casual’. The exception of course is if you decide that dressing exactly like your audience is the way to build rapport. But always make sure you feel comfortable.

Wear something that will feel professional. Even if it’s a social occasion you have a role as a speaker and you have to dress the part.

Think ‘neat’. Ensure your clothing and hair are clean and tidy. DON’T fiddle with it while you are speaking. You don’t want to be distracted by ties undone and shirts untucked, or having to wipe your hair out of your eyes.
Remember if you’re on stage your audience is often below you. They are quite likely to have your shoes, ankles, and knees at eye level . Make sure they’re impeccable. No runs in your hose, and polish your shoes!

Show your personality and dress fashionably and with flair by all means, but consider how you look from a distance. The bigger the space, the simpler and stronger your silhouette should be. Choose colours that read well from a distance. Patterns usually don’t, so be careful with florals, spots, stripes or tartans. In general, in a big space people look better in clean lines and good tailoring. Women should avoid soft fabrics, frills and flounces, and loose cut styles. Men – make sure your suit fits your frame and is not too big in the shoulders or long in the arms.

Too much flesh is a definite no no. Skirts should hit at the knee or lower. Even in formal attire at a special occasion like a wedding where you may be in an evening gown or cocktail wear, women should be cautious with a low-cut neckline or a strapless top. Ask yourself if it’s right for this occasion. Ask yourself whether you are going to be able to leave it unattended while the eyes of a crowd are upon you. You need to be sure your appearance does not distract you – or them, from your words.

High heels look smart but if they’re too high it’s hard to take you seriously. Wear what suits your outfit, so long as you can walk up to the microphone with comfort and confidence.

If you have a hairstyle that can be tied back, that’s a good choice. Show your face and you will look much better on stage. A downward light on a fringe or glasses can cast a shadow on your face – so keep ‘facewear’ to a minimum. Dangly earrings and beads are only for the tall. Bracelets and sparkles create clutter. Keep it simple.

If you need reading glasses for your notes you should decide whether they are on or off for the whole speech – best not to move them about too much while your speech s in progress.

There’s excellent advice and a downloadable checklist from The Eloquent Woman here.


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