Monday, August 4, 2008

Public Speaking: What to wear?

When you stand in front of an audience, remember that people aren't just listening to your words, but are also checking you out. They are taking in the whole picture - your words, your voice and your physical appearance - and are then making judgements about you and your message. This is why the outfit you choose to wear to a speaking event is so important.

If you're ever wondering if this is true, just test the theory. When I was over 7 months pregnant I spoke at a conference. For my 45-minute talk I was wearing fantastic high heels. As soon as I left the stage I went back to the speaker's room and changed into my "granny loafers." At one of the breaks during the day one of the participants came up to me and asked what I did with my shoes. They notice everything!

I always take the following 3 Ps into consideration before grabbing any old thing out of my closet.

Who is your audience? CEOs? You should probably be wearing your best suit. A group of parents at a PTA meeting? You can probably be fairly casual.

Also, how many people will be there? In front of really large audiences, wear something that will stand out. For men, that might mean a red tie or colored shirt. For women, a colorful scarf or jacket will do the trick.

Whether you are speaking at an outdoor stadium in front of thousands, a 5-star hotel ballroom or your company's boardroom, you should always be wearing something appropriate for the place.

When speaking in foreign lands, make sure you know what is culturally appropriate. There are thousands of stories of deals gone bad because people haven't done their homework and have offended the local audience.

Why are you speaking? Are you running a day of training for a small group of professionals? Business casual attire might be formal enough. Are you being called in as an expert in your field for an annual industry conference? You might want to step things up a notch and wear a suit.

Besides the 3 Ps, I have some general rules that I always adhere to when I speak. You may think some of them are outdated or too formal, but like my mom always told me, "You can never be too formal!" Your image will not suffer from being slightly formal, but could shatter from being more informal than the situation dictates.
  • Clothing should be clean and ironed
  • Skirts should not end above the knee
  • Wear closed shoes (no sandals or slingbacks)
  • Always dress one notch more formal than the audience
  • Wear nylons (even I compromise on this one in ridiculously humid climates like Singapore)
  • Avoid overdoing accessories, especially things that make noise
  • Make sure your pockets are empty and you don't have coins or other things jingling around
  • For women planning on using clip-on mics: avoid wearing a dress- it isn't very comfortable clipping the transmitter on the back of your bra!
Who knew there was so much to think about when getting dressed! You might want to pick out your outfit the night before so that you won't be rushed the morning of your big event.

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