When you speak in front of anyone, remember that people aren’t just listening to what you say, they ARE checking you out. They are taking in every little bit of who you are – words, voice and appearance – and are then making judgments about you and your message. This is why the outfit you choose to wear when public speaking is so important.
We all know that when you speak your message is crucial, remember that everything about you ‘speaks’ to the audience. Voice + gestures + grammar + movements + mannerisms + your clothes + personal style = the impression you make.
What you wear is a very important part of this equation. The trend in the last decade (thanks a lot Silicon Valley) has moved toward a more casual atmosphere for business clothing, but this doesn’t mean that you should just ignore your wardrobe. Far from it.
Sarah (you say) That’s all great… but what should I wear for my big talk?
Personal Branding expert and author of Walking Tall, Lesley Everett advises public speakers on how to give the right impression through what they wear…
“As with your posture, your clothing speaks volumes about you and your message, so don’t underestimate it’s importance. Your clothing is part of the brand that your audience will subconsciously absorb as you speak. If your clothing doesn’t represent your message, you will dilute your impact.”
Define the message with what you wear.
Always keep in mind that you want to dress to mirror or embody your brand. The most important consideration when you’re picking your outfit for the next speaking engagement is what reflects either your business’s brand, or your personal brand. If you are the one whom everyone is watching, you want to be sure your appearance is memorable… for the right reasons.
Whether you like it or not, you are your brand. To be seen as an ‘expert’, dress to embody the aspirations of your target audience. Are you speaking on being a domestic goddess? Dress like it (a cardigan is your friend). A cool casual techie conference? You got it… rock that Silicon Valley style (hipster t-shirt anyone?).
A Harvard study coined the term “red sneaker effect”. Meaning if you vary from the norm in a subtle way – wearing a red bow tie with your suit, or those red sneakers with your academic attire – then you will be perceived as more powerful and competent by the audience. It seems that the audience assumes that if you’re able to break the rules a little, you have confidence and authority. If you break the rules too much, however, they’ll see you as either clueless, cray-cray, or incompetent.
Authenticity is (yet again) key. Wearing something that makes you feel ridiculous and uncomfortable will have an effect on your words. As they say in the fashion world… Everything should MATCH.
Are you talking to me?
The key to dressing for public speaking success, is that you want people to think you are competent in the field you are in. Creative fields value a sense of style in dress. The more style you show, the more you are seen as a competent person. But in technical fields like engineering, they want to hear your thoughts, not be dazzled by your ability to combine on-fleek couture.
You want people to pay attention to what you are saying more than what you’re wearing. That goes BOTH ways… dress like a bizarre runway model and that’s what they’re going to remember, dress like a slob and they’ll be focused on the mustard stains on your pants. Your audience is your temporary tribe. Dress in a way that makes you PART of that tribe.
Want to emphasise that you’re fun?
Wear something quirky. Figure out what accessory can you wear, or minor change can you make, that will allow you to stand out from the crowd, without looking like a freak show. Beware of bangle bracelets that jingle or earrings that fly around. This can totally distract your audience. Seeing something shiny that’s moving all around can be a great distraction. It might look good on you but it’s not so great if you want to keep the audience focused on your words. Ask yourself, “How do I want to be seen for by what I wear for my big talk?” Make sure fun doesn’t equal flop.
Keep it classy.
Yes, I know I shouldn’t have to write this. Yes, I’m going to anyway. Please, please, please do NOT try to dress like a teenagers when speaking to teenagers. It’s just wrong on so many levels and will be a disaster. Save the excessive cleavage and chest hair for the discotheque and no super short skirts. How will they ever listen to what you have to say when at any given moment a stiff breeze could share all your lady parts. Wearing a funny cartoon tie is saying, “ Look, I’m really a nice guy. Give me a chance. “ It’s desperate. Don’t do it. Unless you’re giving a speech at disney, it’s not a good bet.
Colour yourself wonderful.
A wonderful article from The Eloquent Woman, emphasises how important colour choice can be…
“If your face and hair are pale, wear a dark suit jacket to help bring you into focus. (Gentlemen, leave that khaki suit at home.) Conversely, don’t wear pale shirts, suits or scarves. In doubt? A French blue shirt, scarf, tie or jacket will complement any skin color or hair color, and will draw attention to your face.”
Stand up straight! (Mum was right)
Slouching is not a power pose. Not even close. Not ever.
Do you have bad posture? Believe it or not wearing a blazer can help. It gives the illusion you’re not slouching and keeps your shoulders straight simply by the cut of the blazer. Ladies, afraid of the boobs out pose? Again, a blazer can be your friend. The modesty of a blazer offsets ‘the girls’ when you pull your shoulders back. And if you’re worried about sweating it out on stage, or just naturally a sweaty Betty, a blazer or cardigan can do a lot to hide those pesky little wet armpit signs that you’re nervous.
Wear what makes you feel GOOD!
Now after all that’s been said… wear what makes you feel good about yourself. It really doesn’t matter as long as you are comfortable and feel good . Killer heels are just that… killer. Public speaking is not the arena for 6 inch stilettos. Yes they make your legs look amazing but if you want to have feeling left in your feet then skip the sky high heels. Dress in something that makes you feel like a million bucks. That confidence will definitely spill over into your presentation! If your outfit ‘fits’ then it won’t be a distraction while still making you feel confident, authentic, and powerful.
The most important thing to wear…
is your smile. Confidence looks good on you!