Secrets of Public Speaking No. 4 :: Dressing So People Will ListenMonday, August 01, 2016
Dress well. This one is perhaps the most controversial, but it matters. Your audience will decide if you are worth listening to in the first three seconds of you taking the stage. Not the first three seconds after you open your mouth — but the first three seconds of you walking on the stage.
How you look matters — whether you like it or not, whether you think it’s fair or not, whether you think it’s sexist or intellectually stunted or unspiritual or whatever. Your personal opinion on the subject does not change how the human brain functions.
If you want people to take the content of your presentation seriously, you need to look put together and professional. Most of the points here apply to women, but a few apply to men as well:
Get your hair professionally blown out or learn how to do it well yourself. If you’re presenting with heavy stage lights or being filmed, consider professional makeup. This isn’t vain — lighting translates skin pigment differently.
This is one I learned from studying music growing up: if you are sitting on stage, or are sitting on a stool for a panel, the audience can see straight up your skirt if it is not knee-length or longer. People may be too polite to say something about it to you, but they will talk about it.
Pack a back-up outfit. This one I learned the hard way: I had picked up a new dress from the dry cleaner, threw it in my suitcase still in the plastic wrap, only to discover a few hours before my presentation and with no stores yet open that the dry cleaner had shrunk it. I put it on, looked in the mirror and burst into tears: I looked like a sausage. With no other options, I had to wear the dress and was mortified the entire day.
If your outfit or suit gets wrinkled in your luggage, have the hotel you’re staying at professionally steam or press it for you.
Travel in something you can also speak in if your luggage gets lost (including a carry on you may have to gate check) and always carry your makeup in your personal carry on. As a bonus, when you dress better for flights, you get treated better by the airlines.
If you wear a lavaliere or countryman (headset) microphone and you're wearing a dress, choose a dress that has a zipper so that the mic pack can be attached to the back of your bra strap. A quick note here: you may need to give the AV team an advance heads up that this is how you wear your microphone. AV pros who have worked in TV will have no problem with this as it's the professional standard. AV pros who work mainly in hotels — particularly college-aged men — tend to be a bit squeamish with this.
Respect your audience. If you are speaking to a more conservative group, you may want to skip a sleeveless top in favor of one with sleeves. I tend to wear sleeves most of the time when I speak anyway simply because I don't like how my arms look in photos.
If you can, wear high heels instead of flats to speak in, especially if the stage has hard flooring. The sound of your heels clicking on the stage sends a subconscious signal of power to your brain, boosting your self-confidence.
If you are wearing heels, walk the stage beforehand to see where the seams are or if they’ve decorated it with a type of carpeting your shoe will catch in.
Unless you’re speaking outside on the beach, flip-flops are not appropriate.
Your clothes don't need to be expensive, but they do need to fit you. Have them tailored if necessary.
Originally published January 2015