Dress for Successful Speaking
” What you wear is how you present yourself to the world, especially today, when human contacts are so quick. Fashion is instant language.” – Miuccia Prada
Far be it from me to describe myself as a fashion maven. But over the years being in the business world, I have a learned a thing or two past the common fashion errors such as wearing socks of different colors, belt and shoes of a different color, and shirt and blazer of different color not appropriate together such as a yellow shirt with a navy-blue suit.
So, for this newsletter we are going to take a public speaker fashion journey to explore speaking attire appropriate to your audience, venue, and topic; the colors that evoke the audience response you want; and, finally, speaking attire don’ts.
Appropriateness to the Audience, Venue, and Topic
Whether you like it or not, your audience is forming their first impression of you purely by the way you look. It may not be fair, but it is reality. It is important you wear clothes that are appropriate for the audience, venue, and topic.
I attended the National Speakers Association Influence 2019 convention this past July. There was another smaller convention of the National Cattlemen’s Association at the venue. I saw a lot of people wearing cowboy and cowgirl hats. In the case of the National Cattlemen’s Association convention, it would be entirely appropriate for the speakers to wear cowboy or cowgirl hats. It would be entirely inappropriate for a speaker at the Influence 2019 convention to wear a cowboy or cowgirl hat unless his or her presentation related to cowboys and/or cowgirls. It is important you dress as your audience does.
If you are a man and the men in your audience are wearing sports jackets with open collars, as a speaker, you should wear a sports jacket with a tie or a suit with a tie. If you are a woman and some of the women in your audience are wearing pants while others are wearing skirts or dresses, I recommend you wear a dress. Always dress one step up from your audience. This will add to your authority as the speaker.
Wearing clothes that somewhat mirror what your audience is wearing draws the audience to you.
Matching your speaking attire to the venue is easy. The earlier in the day your presentation is, the more informal you can be.
If you are speaking at the opening morning plenary session at a conference, a sports jacket and open collar for men and a smart looking pantsuit or nice blouse with a skirt for women is entirely appropriate. At a morning plenary session, you are trying to get the audience excited about the day to come. Informality in your attire will relax the audience and make them look forward to the day’s presentations.
At Influence 2019, one of the speakers at the opening afternoon plenary session was Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind person to reach the summit of Mount Everest. His talk was truly inspiring. He had on a flannel shirt, jeans, and hiking boots. This was a great example of how your dress when you are speaking is appropriate to the topic. If he wore a suit and tie while talking about how he scaled Mount Everest, he would have completely lost the audience. When your attire does not match your topic, there is a good change the audience won’t trust what you are saying.
If you are speaking at a luncheon, for men a business suit or even a sports jacket, dress slacks, and a tie would be appropriate. If you are a woman, a dress would be appropriate.
If you are speaking at a formal dinner at night, wear a dark suit and a tie if you are a man and wear a subdued cocktail dress or long gown if you are a woman.
Avoid wearing proactive clothing when you speak. Your audience will be distracted and may be insulted. You don’t want anything to distract the audience from your message.
So, what you wear when you speak should be appropriate to the audience, venue, and topic. You now know what to wear. So what colors are the most appropriate.
Colors that Evoke the Audience Response You Want
The following information on colors to wear when you are speaking is from These are the Best Colors to Wear While Presenting ( Presentation Training Institute ).
Dress for Power. “Deep, dark colors tend to exude power more than bright colors. So, if you want to come across as an intelligent, credible presenter stick with dark colors such as black, charcoal, deep taupe, grey, or dark blue. These colors are heavier and come across as more authoritative. They are an ideal choice for formal presentations about analytical topics.”
Excite your audience. “It might be that you are plugging a new product and therefore want to grab the attention of your audience. If you are giving a presentation that is a little less formal and more upbeat, you want to wear a color that will reach out and grab the audience’s attention. Red has been shown to increase heart rates and excite an audience. Yellow is another attention grabber and it is great for stimulating mental activity and retaining attention. Purple is often perceived as a luxurious color that can boost creativity. These brighter hues are great for presentations that are meant to excite and persuade audiences.”
Build Trust and Confidence. “Sometimes the purpose of a presentation is to inform an audience. In an informative presentation it is important to build trust and rapport with the audience. Blue is often a calming color and has been associated with tranquility and trust. Green can also be perceived as warm and nurturing, because it reminds us of nature. Grey is the most neutral, and can work well in informative presentations as well.
So, I have talked about what you should wear when you speak should be appropriate to the audience, venue, and topic. I have also talked about what are the best colors to wear in different situations. So, I have covered the dos of speaking attire. Finally, I will talk about what not to wear when you are speaking.
Speaking Attire Don’ts
The following information on what not to wear when you are presenting was adapted from How To Avoid Disaster – Six Rules For What To Wear When Giving a Speech , by Nick Morgan.
Below are six don’ts when it comes to speaking attire:
Always dress slightly worse than the audience. Your audience has come to hear an impressive person speak. They have not come to hear a person like the person next to them at the bar. Think subdued star power when you dress.
Don’t dress consistently with your brand. This is an error that far too many speakers make. If your brand is the outdoors, by all means, wear jeans and boots and a flannel shirt. If you’re a creative type, wear something that signals that. If you’re a boring banker, then wear a gray suit.
Dress to feel like a five-dollar bill. Your audiences will be as enthusiastic about your subject as much as you. So you want to “ooze” with enthusiasm. A prerequisite of enthusiasm is being confident in yourself. A prerequisite of being confident in yourself is to look good. When you look good, you feel good. When you feel good, you will deliver your most powerful presentations. Dress so you feel like a million bucks.
Dress in clothing that restricts your movement. In the last newsletter, I talked about the vital role of gestures. To take advantage of your full repertoire of gestures, you must have unrestricted access to move your hands and your body in whatever makes your presentations more meaningful. When you speak, wear comfortable fitting clothes to facilitate maximum ability to gesture and move your body to the rhythms of your presentation.
Dress in clothing that is meant for someone 20 years younger than you. Have you ever seen the man or woman who speaks in clothing meant for someone 20 years younger? I have. The audience cringing comes to mind. Whether the speaker is a 60-year-old man with an open collar and gold chains or a 55-year-old women with a short skirt and flashy jewelry, the incongruity of their attire and their age will greatly distract the audience. Always wear clothing that is appropriate to your age. You and your audience will be glad you did.
Dress so you will blend into the audience. I previously mentioned audiences come to see a super star speaker. So be the super star the audience wants. Wear the sharp business suit if you are a man or a power pantsuit if you are a woman. Remember, the audience is coming to hear the expert in the topic. Dress like the expert.
So, we took a public speaker fashion journey to explore speaking attire appropriate to your audience, venue, and topic; colors that evoke the audience response you want; and, finally, speaking attire don’ts.
Wear the right clothes when you speak and you will immeasurably add to your influence with your audiences!
“Fashion is a tool…to compete in life outside the home. People like you better, without knowing why, because people always react well to a person, they like the looks of.” — Mary Quant
Looking for professional services to help you significantly increase your influence with your audiences? Contact DiBartolomeo Consulting International (DCI) at firstname.lastname@example.org or (703) 815-1324