How to Dress for Speaking Success

How to Dress for Public Speaking Events

I’ve been telling my speakers for years that first impressions count. The problem is, you’ve only got around seven seconds before audience members have made a snap judgment that is pretty hard to shake even after they get to know you better. 

That’s why what you wear is SO important as a speaker. Dressing for success isn’t merely a phrase in the speaking business. It’s a necessity. 

But what does that phrase mean in reality? And what are some best practices to follow to ensure you’ve wowed the audience before you’ve even opened your mouth? 

How to Dress for Public Speaking Events 

While different settings and occasions will call for different dress codes, there are some best practices to keep in mind. So without any further delay, let’s get into the nitty-gritty details!

Always Dress “Better” Than Your Audience 

Remember that, as a speaker, all eyes are on you. In many cases, you’ll be the main attraction of the event (no pressure!). Therefore, you’ve got to look the part. You’ve got to dress in a way that already says you’re an expert in your field or gives the audience something to aspire to. 

That’s why you need to ensure that you are dressed a little better than they are. Of course, “better” is a subjective term. However, it’s best to make sure that your dress is up at least a notch over the clothes being worn by your audience. 

That doesn’t mean wearing a tuxedo to a local networking meetup. Just be a little fancier, nicer, or sharper-looking, so it’s clear you are not a member of the audience yourself.

Assess Your Speaking Audience

Given you need to base your level of dress at least somewhat on the audience, the logical next step is to find out everything you can about them. You will likely find yourself regularly talking to a similar audience, especially if you have carved out a specific industry niche for yourself

That’s why it’s a great idea to carry out a little research beforehand since it will likely serve you for years to come, and you go on to dominate your speaker space

Find out from the event organizer who you are going to be speaking to. Demographic information to gather from them includes but isn’t limited to: 

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Occupation
  • Education
  • Political affiliations
  • Religion

This information will prove vital in shaping your outfit choice for both the specific event you plan on speaking at and for future bookings with similar audiences. 

Check the Event or Venue Dress Code

While you’ll get a pretty good idea of what you need to be wearing by following the steps above, you always need to check with the venue and event organizers to ensure that what you plan on wearing meets their requirements. 

Venue managers might have specific rules regarding dress codes regardless of the occasion or the information provided by the event host. There’s nothing more unprofessional than having to cancel your speech because you forgot to bring your suit jacket.  

How to Dress for Public Speaking Events

Dress Consistently to Match Your Personal Brand

Remember that the way you dress is one of the many elements of your personal branding as a speaker. For example, Bill Gates has his famous button-down shirt and sweater combo, which has become synonymous with his personal brand. Seeing him in a full-blown suit would look odd.

Therefore you have to curate a clothing style that helps people to identify you. That’s not to say you wear the exact same outfit for every speech. That’s impossible. However, do stick to an overall theme.

For instance, you may feel that blue is your best color, so you always wear a shirt or smart dress in various shades of that color. You might prefer to add vibrant-colored shoes to your outfit and have that as your hallmark feature. 

The choice is yours, but just remember that you become what you wear when choosing your outfits. 

Which Clothes Should Speakers Wear? 

There is no right or wrong answer here. However, I thought it would be helpful to list some of the most common crowd-pleasing clothing items to give you a rough idea of what you need to have in your wardrobe before crafting your “go-to” look. 

  • Dark-colored slacks: Excellent choices for nearly every occasion. Black, blue, and gray are all well-received smart color choices.
  • Button-down dress shirt or blouse: Choose a color you feel suits you best (nothing too flashy or tacky). 
  • Comfortable but smart shoes: This is key. If you are in agony as you pace up and down the stage, you won’t be able to deliver your best performance. 
  • Modest accessories that don’t draw too much attention: They should add subtle touches to your outfit, not distract audiences!
  • Dresses and skirts: They should be below the knee and loose enough to walk comfortably. 
  • Always bring a suit jacket: You never know! You can make even the most casual clothes look ten times smarter with a suit jacket. Always have one or two on standby just in case. 

Another note on colors. Pay attention to their personality. For instance, black and red are both power colors, but red can come off as aggressive. Blues and grays are more neutral, and white adds a touch of cleanliness and sharpness.

I would suggest trying on several combinations before settling on your signature look. 

Dress to Secure That Vital Positive First Impression 

As I mentioned at the top of this post, first impressions count. They are also difficult to overcome once established. Therefore, your outfit will play a crucial role in winning over your audience before you’ve even opened your mouth

If you want to gain deeper insights into dressing for speaking success, then I suggest that you join our free Facebook groupGrow Your Speaking Biz. It’s a group full of talented individuals who share their hints and tips (including dressing to impress) to help each other grow their speaking businesses.

We can’t wait to see you in there!