Speak for Yourself

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

What to wear for speaking engagements

Jessica+Starr+shows+why+weather+girls+should+not+wear+a+Green+DressWhat to wear???? It’s nearly every presenter’s agony moment. Dressing well for the occasion is part of your presentation. The way the audience responds to what you say will be influenced by how you look.

Clothing builds rapport. It also impresses people. What you wear expresses  who you are. It provides clues to your character and in this way it sends signals to the audience about whether or not they’ll enjoy listening to you. That’s important because it’s the beginning of  a  connection, and you need that for your presentation to work well.

When you choose your wardrobe watch for  three things.

1. you need to feel comfortable,
2. your appearance should enhance your presentation.
3. you must look right for the event.

Think about  the occasion and the audience.  Who are they? What will they consider to be professional and suitable?  What time of day is it? Where is being held? What role do you occupy?  Who is watching you and how will they be dressed?

Coco Chanel is famous for saying  ‘before you go out, look in the mirror and take something off’.  (I’m guessing she meant accessories!) It’s  useful advice, as simplicity is certainly best for public speaking.

As a presenter, you are being ‘read’ from a distance. A  good rule is to keep it sleek and uncluttered. It’s the outline that matters. For women, jewellery, high heels, long glossy hair,  scarves and fancy garments may may look  glam,  but they can  seem  busy or  get lost  entirely  when you are standing on a stage. And don’t expose too much flesh except if you are in evening dress.

Think like an architect. A simple, strong silhouette  always looks best. What is your structure? How can it be  worked  to best effect?  If you are tall and rangy you might  look elegant in pretty well anything. For the rest of us? Tailored garments work for most people, whatever their figure. You can’t look bad in a suit, provided it fits you properly. The short presenter and the well-padded one especially need to think about  creating a clear clean outline.

Plain colours and monochrome tones are better than patterns, and women’s  jackets  and straight skirts usually work.  Be wary of pastels, they can bleach you out and look wishy washy unless you have dark skin.  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.

Think ‘neat’.  You don’t want to be distracted by ties undone and shirts untucked, or having to wipe your hair out of your eyes. Your shoes matter, especially if you are up on a stage above your audience – ensure they are clean!

Long hair should be tidy – wear it up if  possible.  If the occasion means you must wear a hat, choose one that allows the audience still to see your face.

Keep your face  visible.  The eyes are the main thing, the audience really needs to see them. Glasses, earrings, a fringe, hairbands…they detract from  your face, so simplify  as much  as you can. Remember you may be lit  from  above and that casts shadows.

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  while your speech is in progress.

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.

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


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