You don’t have to be a fashionista to wonder how to dress for public speaking. This is actually a common concern, and sometimes can cause downright anxiety for some people. It’s a big enough issue that people search for advice all the time. That’s what I’m here to help with.
Wondering how to dress for public speaking? Research your audience, understand the industry, wear the right colors, and dress a little better than the audience.
But there is so much more to dressing well for your speeches. Read on for real, actionable pointers to get you dressed for public speaking success.
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What does “dress for success” mean?
The tired old phrase “Dress for success” isn’t at all helpful when you’re in a panic. While I find this overused bit of advice to be less than useful by itself, there is a nugget of wisdom in those words. That nugget is worth exploring for a moment.
Dressing for success simply means to dress as if you are already successful. But what if you don’t know what that looks like?
Don’t worry. Most people don’t know what success looks like. Not at first at least. By the end of this article you will learn how to decode what success looks like for each audience and how to make your wardrobe scream success in public speaking.
The basics of how to dress for public speaking
I’ll get into some specifics a little bit later in this article, but for now I’d like to focus on the basics. With these foundation rules in mind, you should be able to build a stellar wardrobe for any public speaking engagement with little more than a glance in your closet.
#1 Dress better than the audience
When you are a public speaker, all eyes will be on you. Your audience will view you as an expert in your field or someone they should be looking up to. For that reason, you want to make sure you’re dressed a little bit better than they are.
This does not mean that you should show up to an ice cream social dressed in a tuxedo. But it does mean that you need to bring your wardrobe up one notch from the audience’s. Just a little fancier, a little nicer, a little “more”.
What that means specifically is going to depend on what your audience is wearing, what your industry is, and the expected level of professionalism at your particular event.
#2 Be consistent when deciding how to dress for public speaking
I don’t want you to buy 12 of the exact same outfit and wear them at every one of your speaking engagements. However, I do want you to stick with an overall theme.
Chances are good that you will be speaking to audiences within the same industry. Yet, even if you do public speaking sessions over several different industries, you can still showcase a particular style or brand in your clothing.
Don’t confuse this advice of sticking to a style or brand as saying you must only buy from the same designer. You can find event-appropriate and similar styles of clothing across multiple brands and in different price ranges.
As an example: I know one public speaker who always wears a specific shade of blue dress shirt and a pair of comfortable black slacks. If he needs to dress it up, he adds in a variety of different jackets and shoes on higher levels of “fancy”. For formal events, he adds cufflinks or other appropriate accessories. But, still, it’s always that shade of blue shirt and comfy black slacks.
That is his brand.
Another example: I know another speaker who wears a different colored dress every time she decides how to dress for public speaking. They are always a modest length, short sleeved, and lightly embellished. To dress them up, she adds tasteful jewelry and other accessories. To dress them down she simply changes the shoes she wears.
That is her brand.
These are both simple, classic, easy styles. But they are hallmarks of these two speakers because people have grown used to seeing them dress this way. Your own style can be as elaborate or as simple as you like. Just be consistent.
#3 Dress to feel good
When choosing how to dress for public speaking, it can be tempting to go with the fanciest outfit imaginable. Don’t.
You want to impress these people, that’s a fact. Yet, if you’re not used to wearing that kind of clothing, all you’re going to do is make yourself miserable. You’ll spend your entire speech uncomfortable, which will then make the audience uncomfortable.
If you’re used to wearing a business suit, for example, build your public speaking wardrobe along those same lines.
If you’re the creative type who wears much more casual clothes in your daily work life, then you wear a suit for your speech, you’ll look and feel out of place. Instead, find ways to dress up your usual type of clothing to be more suitable for public speaking engagements.
Deciding what to wear for public speaking success
This is the part where we dive into the details of choosing the right wardrobe for public speaking. Keep those Foundation rules in mind from up above and this part should be really easy.
#4 Who is your audience?
Do a little reconnaissance on who your audience will be for your next public speaking engagement. Who they are should help dictate which outfit you should wear during your speech.
Are they young professionals, older professionals, creative types, or will it be a mixed audience?
I’ve talked about these demographics before, but they are important enough to repeat. Check your audience for the following:
- Political affiliations
It’s a lot easier to dress for one particular kind of audience. However, if you find yourself in front of an audience of mixed people from a wide variety of backgrounds, you can bring a couple jacket choices or accessories to dress your outfit up or down once you see them in person.
#5 What is the theme of the event?
There is always room for personal style in public speaking wardrobe choices. But, remember the foundation rule of dressing within your brand and being consistent.
Some of your clothing choices will depend on the theme of the event. You would not want to walk onto the stage in bright, obnoxious colors in the middle of a somber event, for example.
#8 What is the industry?
Even if the theme of your public speaking event is rather casual, like a retreat, the industry your audience is in makes a big impact on what you should wear.
A hyper casual company on a retreat, for example, isn’t going to expect you to show up in formal clothing. But a room full of lawyers on the same retreat may expect you to wear a nice sports coat and slacks or a semi-casual pantsuit.
If you’re unsure what appropriate in the industry, you can always check out the website of one or more of the companies who will be attending your speech. If all else fails, ask the event coordinator for some information on the industry.
#8 The venue might have its own dress code
This happens less frequently, but it’s worth mentioning to keep you informed. Ask the venue manager if there is a dress code. It’s usually up to the event coordinator to choose a dress code, but sometimes the venue has their own ideas. You don’t want to be caught by the manager wearing the wrong clothing.
It’ll make you look unprofessional to the venue and to your disappointed audience when your speech is cancelled because you forgot your suit jacket.
Common crowd-pleasing clothes
If you’re still stumped after all these tips, it’s okay. A lot of people don’t become comfortable dressing for public speaking right away. That’s why I’ve put together this list of go-to, crowd-pleasing clothes to choose from.
Some lists break things down into gender-specific clothing. In these changing times, I don’t think that’s necessary anymore.
#9 Go-to list
If you see something on this list that would not work for your conservative audience, for example, skip it. I think you’re smart enough to use your best judgment to choose suitable clothing from this list.
- Dark-colored slacks. Blue, gray, and black are good choices for nearly every occasion.
- Button-down dress shirt or blouse in a friendly color (see below).
- Comfortable but nice shoes.
- Dark shoes blend into most outfits, though flashy colors can odd a splash of excitement.
- Modest accessories that don’t shine too much or draw too much attention. They should add to the outfit, not distract audiences.
- Dresses and skirts should be below the knee and loose enough to walk comfortably. Beware a very loose dress or skirt while standing on a stage above your audience.
- Bring a suit jacket to dress up a more casual outfit, just in case.
#10 Colors have personality
The following colors have been proven to elicit certain responses in people. Choose your colors wisely when deciding what to wear for public speaking. Be sure your color personality matches your intentions and your audience’s needs.
Black is a power color that makes you seem stable, confident, and strong. It imparts a sense of authority and trust. Too much black, however, can make you seem too stern and unapproachable. Splash some color into a black outfit to subdue some of the power and add more personality.
White is associated with purity. It helps you appear clean, sharp, and together. It can be overpowering in the sense that too much white may make you appear innocent or even naïve. It also has a habit of washing out some skin tones. Use white sparingly.
Blue is a safe and common color, especially darker shades. It gives a sense of calm and coolness, while also being approachable.
It’s a friendly color that elicits a peaceful response from most people. Those who wear blue are often thought of as honest, trustworthy, and thoughtful. You can jazz up an outfit by adding a brighter blue accent color, or bring the energy down by keeping the shades darker.
Gray can be a good choice for a neutral look. However, too much gray can seem unfriendly. When done well, gray can be classy and stylish, giving an air of refinement that isn’t too stuffy.
Done poorly, gray can be boring, forgettable, or cold. As with other neutral colors, adding a splash of brighter color to a gray outfit can help balance your look.
Green can be a great color or a terrible choice, it all depends on the shade. For example, wearing a bright, lime green suit to a funeral will probably earn you some scowls.
However, a dark green suit with tasteful accessories worn to the same funeral can help people feel safe and secure without drowning the room in black.
It’s a good color to choose for a more natural look, as it helps people think of a grassy field or nature.
Red is a power color, but that isn’t always a good thing. Too much red comes across as intense and aggressive, which is not the mood most public speakers want at their events.
Skip the totally red outfit and just use this powerful color as an eye-catching accent.
Yellow accents can help people see you as bright, happy, cheerful, and friendly. I advise against wearing too much yellow for most public speaking events, however. It can make the eyes weary very quickly.
Bonus tip: How to wear accessories during your speech?
Before I go, I want to talk briefly about accessories. Keep them low-key, non-flashy, and tasteful. What “tasteful” means will vary from industry to industry, so you need to do some homework there, too.
Watches, rings, necklaces, lapel pins, and even the style of buttons on your jacket can all add a little oomph to your outfit, or can help tone things down.
I will say that my favorite way to dress up an outfit is to simply carry a nice briefcase. There’s something special about a briefcase sitting on the floor next to where I’m standing. It shows the audience I mean business, even if my outfit might be a little more casual.
Conclusion: How to Dress for Public Speaking?
Wear things that reflect the audience’s niche and interests. Wear friendly, open colors that also show authority and stability, such as blue, black, and gray.
I hope you found this article more useful than the lame saying of “Dress for success”. At least now you know what that means and how you can decipher what “success” actually looks like in your industry.
Why is it good to dress up for a speech? When you dress a little better than your audience, you move yourself into a power position, but not in an aggressive way.
A nicely-dressed speaker gets more attention and respect from an audience because they look more professional and “put together” than the audience. It also shows you’re taking the job seriously.
How do you speak well without notes? You must focus on making a connection with your audience, speak from the heart, and tell them a story. Open the floor for your audience to have a question and answer period. And as with most things, practicing your speech beforehand is absolutely essential.(full article here)