Whether you or not you believe the adage “Never judge a book by it’s cover,” the simple fact is that our appearance matters when we give a presentation. A lot of messages get packed into our appearance, hence people getting hung up on picking their outfits when giving presentations.
This sartorially-themed post comes courtesy of Bonita, who sent me this question:
Hi Lauren – I’m a senior leader at a not-for-profit and I speak to lots of different groups – businesses, politicians, and the community. What should I be wearing when I give a talk? I’m not really into fashion – how can I look professional and appropriate without having to buy a million different outfits?
Thanks for your help, Bonita
(Click here to watch the video directly on YouTube, or you can scroll down for the full transcript)
Do you have your own favorite presentation fashion tip, or maybe a “lucky” item you always wear like a special tie or piece of jewelery? Share it with with me over on Twitter via @lsergy or over here on Facebook!
Bonita, you are a woman after my own heart. I’m not much of a clothes horse either, but I do know that picking the appropriate outfit is very important when giving a presentation.
Our clothes signal lots of things, like confidence, poise, authority, approachability, and a big one is that they signal the speaker’s awareness of the norms, values, and even personality of the audience they’re speaking to. You don’t need a bulging closet to be able to dress appropriately for most audiences. But whether you’re fashion-forward or fashion-oblivious, dressing up or dressing down, there are a couple of rules you want to follow.
One, when you’re giving a talk, wear something that makes you feel good. This doesn’t mean slumping around in your comfiest sweats – it means wearing things that makes you feel strong, confident, and proud. I might love my plaid pyjama bottoms, but I feel proud, poised, and generally fantastic in a well-tailored suit. Next, be sure that your clothes fit you properly and let you move. You’ll look and feel better when your movements aren’t encumbered or you’re not worried about too-tight waistlines, creeping hems, or treacherous footwear. Finally, your audience as your guide. I always consider what my audience will be wearing, and then go for a crisper version of that. For some audiences, this might mean jeans with a shirt and blazer, for others it might mean a more traditional suit with a skirt and heels.
When putting together your wardrobe, go for a few good foundation pieces that you can easily mix and match. You can put together a great speaking wardrobe with just a few simple pieces. I have a blazer, one pair of good trousers and a skirt along with a couple of shirts and sweaters. With this, I can dress appropriately for just about any speaking occasion. For most audiences, I wear pressed trousers, a nice button up shirt or a good sweater for cold weather, and a blazer. For a more traditional or formal crowd, I might switch the trousers for a skirt and I wear a pair of low-rise heels. For a more casual crowd, I leave the blazer behind and wear lace-up flats (gents, lose the tie – this is instantly more casual). And for everything except fancy black-tie events, I keep my jewelry low-key and sleek.
Now if you have a great eye for fashion and love trying out new trends, go for it – just be sure to keep it within a couple of degrees of what your prospective audience would wear and you’ll be able to stand out without scandalizing those watching you. But remember – the important thing is that your foundation pieces (especially the trousers, shirt, and blazer) fit you properly, are neatly pressed, and are comfortable to move around in. This will help you feel good, it will look good to the audience, and you’ll perform better for it.
And now I’d like to turn it over to you – do you have a favorite outfit for presentations? Maybe a lucky tie or piece of jewelry you like to wear? Share it in the comments down below.