The Master Communicator Blog

What do you wear when you speak in public?

What should you wear when you present, speak in front of an audience, or do a media interview? It’s a tough decision when the stakes are high. Your clothes can be an asset or a distraction. That’s why you should choose wisely.
September 12, 2022

What should you wear when you present, speak in front of an audience, or do a media interview? That can be a tough decision when the stakes are high.

Many people have a signature style which determines their sartorial preferences. Often, that personal look means wearing a particular style or color of clothing or even the same garments every day.

Billionaire Richard Branson has a minimalist approach: His wardrobe consists of a couple of pairs of jeans and a few white shirts. This way, he claims, there is no valuable energy spent making trivial decisions daily. Steve Jobs loved the efficiency of a work uniform. He owned more than 100 black mock turtlenecks, which he paired with Levi’s 501 jeans and New Balance sneakers for an iconic look which endures to this day.

For the rest of us non-billionaires, what we wear matters because it’s a form of non-verbal language. Your wardrobe can complement your message or detract from it. It’s the first thing people see before you begin to speak. And it makes the all-important first impression that gets you started on the right foot.

How do you decide what to wear? Consider these three factors: style, comfort, and message.

Style

You likely already have a signature style for business. Working from home and flex schedules have relaxed some rules and expectations regarding how we dress. But when it comes to speechmaking, presenting and working with the media, you need to look your best and embody your message. You also need to feel comfortable and confident.

Are your choices consistent with your personal brand? What expresses your personality in a professional setting? If you are a NASA engineer, you won’t want to address an audience dressed in a hoodie and jeans. You can exercise personal power and authority by your wardrobe decisions.

Formal, business casual or Silicon Valley chic? It’s important to be in sync with your audience. You can ask your host or meeting planner about the dress code and choose your attire accordingly.

Where will you speak? On a stage, in the front of a conference room, a board room, on a videoconference or a broadcast studio?

Consider the colors of the backdrop at the venue. For example, if the curtain in the background is purple, make sure you don’t wear the same color.

Select colors that complement your skin tone and hair but consider how certain hues look under the lights of a stage or television studio. If you’re on camera, pick the most telegenic colors (magenta, cobalt blue, dark grey, pink, and yellow) and avoid busy patterns and metallic textiles.

Visualize how you’ll feel standing in front of a microphone when a large group of expectant people are looking at you. It’s showtime and you need to dress the part.

Comfort

There’s no sense in looking great if it affects your performance. While style is important, you’ve got to think about your physical comfort and movement while giving a presentation.

Select garments that allow you to move your arms, neck, and legs while you speak. Expect to sweat; some fabrics and colors are better at masking perspiration than others.

If you need to wear a wireless microphone, anticipate where to clip the transmitter. It’s most comfortable when clipped to a waistband. The lavalier mic needs to attach discretely to a lapel, tie, or neckline.

Bring two sets of clothing to the venue where you are speaking. If you spill coffee on your lap or get caught in the rain in transit, you will have a fresh outfit to wear.

The right shoes make a world of difference. When your feet hurt, it shows on your face. Dump the red stilettos and don a more modest heel or flats that let you move about the stage without wobbling. And go easy on the bling and oversized jewelry that may overpower your appearance.

Message

The final thing to consider is what message you want to convey with what you wear for public speaking. There should be a perfect consistency and symmetry between your look and what you want to communicate. 

Take Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. He’s normally in a T-shirt or hoodie because, like Branson, he doesn’t have time to make wardrobe decisions every day. Besides, it fits his non-corporate techie image. But when he had to testify before ornery members of Congress, he knew it was time to dust off the jacket and tie.

When deciding what to wear to take the stage, think about your style, your comfort, and your message. Make your appearance match your words and cast a lasting impression on your audience.

Rosemary Ravinal

Business leaders and entrepreneurs who want to elevate their public speaking impact, executive presence, and media interview skills come to me for personalized attention and measurable results. I am recognized as America’s Premier Bilingual Public Speaking Coach after decades as a corporate spokesperson and media personality in the U.S. mainstream, Hispanic and Latin American markets. My company’s services are available for individuals, teams, in-person and online, and in English and Spanish in South Florida and elsewhere.

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