Sunday, June 07, 2009

The ABC's of Public Speaking - D is for Dress Code

As a professional speaker I get asked for advice, tips or tricks from business executives and others. The most rewarding part is that it is the little things that make a big difference when you make a presentation, thus I am devoting my blog posts this month to sharing some small but powerful ideas that will help everyone.

D is for Dress Code

When you are speaking it is not just the words that come from your mouth that make an impact on how the audience perceives the experience. Many a speaker has taken the stage with a powerfully crafted script and dazzling PowerPoint slides, only to leave the audience with nothing memorable.

While the message is important, everything about your voice, your gestures, your grammar, your movements, your mannerisms, your clothes, and your style will add up to the impression you make on the audience.

How you are dressed is a very important part of this equation. While the movement over the last decade has certainly been toward a more casual atmosphere for business clothing, this does not mean that you can ignore your wardrobe if you are scheduled to deliver a presentation.

Many younger executives and creative types are accustomed to wearing jeans or dockers to work, and pride themselves on not having to wear the "uniform" of a suit that their parents were subscribed. This pride in "casual" leads many to forget that you are judged by first impressions, especially when you are on the stage as the speaker.

When addressing a large group the visual part of a first impression is more important, as the one-on-one interpersonal connection is divided by the distance.

If the industries in which you work, or the people to whom you are speaking, are going to be casually dressed I am not suggesting you show up in an Armani Tuxedo. But you need to be aware in advance of the dress code for the audience and make sure that you are dressed just a little nicer.

"A little bit nicer" is subjective. You need to take into consideration the audience, their industry style of dress and your own personal style. Wardrobe choices are more varied for women, which gives women a wider variety of options, but both men and women should wear clothes that make them feel comfortable regardless the "level" of dressiness.

A few examples of what to consider when selecting what to wear:
  • Audience in jeans and t-shirts: Speakers wears pants or skirt (think khakis) and a golf shirt or blouse.
  • Audience dressed "business casual": Speaker wears a dress or skirt (for women), or slacks with blazer or other jacket...maybe a tie (for men).
  • Audience wearing business attire (with or without ties for men): Speaker wears a business suit (with a tie) or an appropriate dress.
You do not want to be "over dressed", as it can create an artificial distance between you and the audience. However, consciously selecting your clothes to be just a little nicer than the crowd can make sure that you are viewed as an established expert.

Additionally when you are dressed in a professional manner you send a message to the audience that they matter to you. Your investing the time to select the appropriate wardrobe is a sign of respect to those who are listening to your presentation. The trendy young entrepreneur who shows up wearing shorts and flip flops to address a conference is sending the message his priorities are more focused on himself (and his trendy anti-establishment image).

If you want to get respect, you first must give respect. Your choice of clothes can make a difference in the success of your presentation.

Have A Great Day


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