What Should You Wear For Your Speaking Engagement?

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Your Personal Presence (Presentation) Is Your Greatest Marketing Tool!

Whether it is your first speaking engagement or you are a seasoned veteran, the last thing you need to worry about is how you look! You know the feeling: You hear “let me introduce” . . . You are feeling confident, all eyes are on you and then that thought flashes in your mind of “Do I look OK?” Does this sound familiar? Confidence is key in our professional and personal life, especially when all eyes are on us. Both what we say and how we look visually is key in today’s competitive work environment. When you are speaking in front of an audience (no matter how big or small), your Personal Presence is your greatest marketing tool. You need to accurately and instantly represent your intended message.

The following suggestions will help you achieve that A+ Personal Brand Image and make your confidence soar, leaving your audience very impressed!

Personal Brand
When I am selecting the ensemble for a client I would first ask: What do you want your clothing to communicate? What is your area of expertise? What role do you hold? For instance, if I am dressing a Marketing professional they may want to have a creative flare come through versus a Financial Money Manager – who typically wants to look more conservative. Next, I would ask what your responsibilities are the speaking engagement. Are you the main attraction? Are you the host? Are you on a panel, etc.? This information is helpful for us to determine if there are other limitations so, that we can work around them and still put together a successful ensemble. Please note: outdated clothes send a message to the audience that your content and business philosophies may be outdated as well! And ill-fitting clothes instantly send a message to the audience that you may not be reliably attentive to their professional needs or be able to tend to the details of their projects if you can’t attend to the important details of your own professional dress.

Next, you need to understand who will make up your audience. Do they work in the same field as you? If not, what types of professions are they in? This information will not only be helpful to the content you present at the event, but guide you in dressing appropriately to maintain the group’s attention and your credibility. I know when I speak at a more conservative company I adjust my outfit accordingly – not the place for my leopard blazer! Another important detail is the general size of this group. For instance, if you have a large audience, they need to be able to see you from the back row. When you are speaking in front of an audience, it is your responsibility to inform and to entertain them. Remember, you are the biggest “visual”.

Determine some specifics about the event and assess how they will directly affect what you choose to wear. What is the set-up? Will you be speaking to the audience from a stage? Behind a podium? Sitting down? Behind a desk/table? Is a microphone required? If so, will it be hand held or a clip on? As an example, when you are required to sit on a chair in-between other panel members in front of the audience, it would be important to make sure that they cannot see your Spanx undergarments when you cross your legs. Or, more comfortable shoes might be required if you will be standing during your presentation. Or, when the event requires that you wear a battery pack make sure that the tech person has easy access or that your top isn’t a non-stretch cotton material. Believe me, I have learned the hard way – years ago I wore a dress and there was nowhere to clip the battery pack (not good!). Answers to logistical constraints can help you hone in on the best clothing options for you and the occasion.

Do your research and learn if you will be in a large highly air conditioned room or an older building with no ventilation. This will help you to adjust the weight of fabric you select to wear. You will also want to learn what background will be standing in front of when you speak. Will it be a busy banner or photo montage or simply a plain curtain. Hopefully it will be the later as you will have the best odds of getting across your message when you and what you are saying stand out against any other visuals that are close by while you speak.

Flattering Silhouettes
Keep the attention on you . . . In addition to your outfit portraying a current, modern and appropriate professional image, it is crucial to create a flattering silhouette while speaking in front of a live audience. The reason for this is simple; we don’t want the audience distracted. Focus on your complimentary assets and simply camouflage any tricky ones.

Another area on the body that is important to play up when you are speaking in front of an audience is the neck region. It is flattering to your overall silhouette when you give the impression of a long neck. A top or dress with a wide u-neckline or v-neckline is always a good choice. This neck lengthening style technique does a few different things. First, it makes you look taller. And when you look taller, you appear longer and leaner. Even if you are already tall or lean, this principle is still advantageous and flattering. A long neck (or the illusion of a long neck) directs attention to the face, and attention to the face means attention to the fact that the person is speaking. This is especially important for those audience members that are sitting in the back, but also for those that have an up-close and personal vantage point. Both techniques keep the attention on you and away from other visuals while you are speaking.

For those of you that know me, you know I preach that color is a foundational principle when selecting clothing. Color is so much more important than most people realize. It can actually set the tone and affect the moods of others. It is beneficial to set a positive tone for your audience and this can be done instantly with the color(s) you choose to wear in your outfit. Strong, rich and bright or vibrant colors work best for professional speaking engagements. Strong colors will also emphasize and communicate the passion and enthusiasm you hold for the content of your message.

Dynamic colors will be inviting to your audience. Please note, I am not suggesting that you wear loud neon colors but, rather those vibrant colors that are flattering on your skin tone. This way you will be appropriately noticeable in the crowd. When we wear dark colors to a speaking engagement we run the risk of looking invisible to the audience. This is especially evident to a large group who must view us from a distance.

It is super important that you feel as good as you look when you are speaking in front of a group. When we are physically comfortable, we feel more confident. I have found that when I am not wearing a comfortable pair of shoes, the physical discomfort holds me back from doing my best – as the pain distracts my attention. I only wear shoes that I feel physically and stylistically good in because the distraction is not worth the risk. Admittedly, for women this is a tricky balance to accomplish, but it can be done!

There is another comfort issue you may not even be aware is lurking . . . If your clothes are too tight or too short, you may be unconsciously tugging at your clothing. Your audience will not only be distracted by your tugging motion but the ill-fitting garment will also create another visual distraction for your audience. This combo is deadly!

For professionals, the fewer visual distractions you offer your audience, the more likely they are to pay attention to the content you share. Some additional visual distractions include loose buttons and threads, visible undergarments, wrinkle-prone fabrics, noisy shoes when you have to walk throughout the presentation and noisy jewelry (especially when you have to use/wear a microphone). So remember, it is equally important to feel comfortable, look comfortable and exhibit confidence when you are speaking in front of an audience.

Personal Brand
One last point to remember is to have fun communicating your “Personal Brand”. Too many speakers want to be so safe they end up looking invisible. You want your personality and Personal Brand to come through via your ensemble. Yes, be appropriate, be comfortable but also show your personal authentic style. Looking your best is the fastest way to set the tone for your event. How you look will set the tone for your event before you even speak a word.

So, whether you are the host, the main speaker, or on a panel, it is extremely relevant as a business professional to strategically and effectively reinforce your business message to your audience with your personal presentation. When you wear an outfit that is appropriate, flattering and comfortable, your appearance and resulting self-confidence will resonate with your audience. This will put a confident smile on your face and translate entertainingly well to your audience.

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