Could what you wear on stage as a Speaker make a difference in the success and impact of your speech?
If you want to make an immediate connection with your audience you should have an array of outfits on hand to choose from when preparing for your event. Whether you’re a suit and tie guy, or dress and high heel gal, or jeans and dress shirt or blouse are more your style, you should stock your wardrobe with different audiences in mind.
I know, I know, some of you are like, really?
I am who I am, isn’t that what you teach us? To be authentic and true? Yes, of course I do. You can still convey your personality while dressing to fit the audience you’re presenting in front of. Seems obvious, but it’s a bit more subtle than that.
Stay with me…
When I was a teenager, I tried to “fit in”, as we all do when we are that age. Trouble was, we were very poor and my clothes were either hand-me-downs or handmade by my mom. Sounds quaint for the 30s, but this was America in the 80s. Enough said.
We lived in the back northern woods of Minnesota with no electricity, no running water and certainly no closets full of nice, trendy clothes.
Did I care? Of course I did. I was a teenager trying to fit in, trying to connect with who I thought at the time were “my people.”
My parents are wonderful people and we never lacked for love and emotional security. They did an amazing job raising us on next-to-nothing it seemed. As a teenager, I didn’t always see what they were doing because I had the social pressures of my life.
I remember when it was time for prom and I wanted to go so badly, but we couldn’t afford a dress. So my sweet mom went to the local Benjamin Franklin and made me a dress out of a bed sheet. Don’t ask if that went over too well. Let’s just say it was not a Scarlett O’Hara moment, to be sure.
My point is, that I felt I needed to dress a certain way to connect with people. That is true to a certain point. I would never fit in with the jocks, or the preppy girls because I didn’t dress like them, so connections were difficult or impossible.
Sure, back in the 80s when this took place, the true barrier I was facing was the judgment of others, but we all know that is as real a challenge today as it ever has been.
Today, I’m not a make-up or styling maven. I leave that advice to the true experts. I do know that as a speaker you need to dress appropriately to fit the audience, so that your presentation of self seamlessly blends with your presentation of information.
Here is a scenario for you: You’re a tailored-grey-suit-kind-of-guy, and pride yourself on looking sharp, slick back hair, best cologne and ready to rock your audience! I say awesome! This is great for those gigs where you’re speaking to those Fortune 500 crowds at their annual conferences. Go for it – just go easy on the strong cologne.
BUT, if your audience is college students or you’re going to a High School auditorium, you’re going to distract and detract from your message if your dress that way. As soon as you walk in, you look like you’re from the government or a tightly wound up stress-ball, or even a snooty, high-class fella and you will have lost the majority of your audience to their phones and friends next to them.
Believe me. I’ve been in those rooms. It’s not pretty – even if you are.
So, those grueling hours of working to get the presentation perfect have now been undermined by an easily avoidable distraction.
Am I saying to wear “what the kids are wearing these days”? Of course, not, but you should present yourself as approachable, respectable and relatable. You can still look professional and pulled together, just not stuffy and stiff or aloof and out-of-touch.
TIP: Try to get in the mind-set of your audience beforehand and think as they would think. What would they want to see in the speaker? Are you speaking to a garden club, then go with that theme. Is your talk outdoors at a retreat? Dress like someone who’s ready for adventure or at ease in nature. Mirror your audience, then add a 10% upgrade in your appearance.
You should research your audience so that you can dress for success. To be honest, if it were me going into a high school auditorium, I would be in a nice blouse, a pair of dark or trouser jeans, belt and sneaker-style loafers, low-heeled sling-backs or dress sandals (depending on the season). My hair would most likely be neatly pulled back in a ponytail. I would definitely not be in my suit and most likely would not even wear a dress.
TIP: Some schools may have faculty dress codes, and while you are not faculty, you are being brought in by the administration. Out of respect for them, check to see if they have a preference for your style of dress or ask them to send you an email with their faculty dress code. They will appreciate it and remember your thoughtfulness and deference.
You shouldn’t get the attitude of well if they can’t connect with me that’s their deal. Really? I am exaggerating, because I know you, the Professional Speaker doesn’t think that way. Have to say it though – It is not their deal, it’s yours. And here’s the awesome thing – it’s something you have total control over. What else in the speaking world can you say ever say that about?
TIP: Be sure to pack some items in your behind-the-stage bag which can easily dress up or dress down your look as your preview the house. Some items might be ties in different colors or patterns, a silk scarf for around your neck, classy or artsy jewelry, a tailored sweater to replace your high-end tailored suit jacket, heels of different heights, loafers and dress shoes. Your go-bag should have a variety of items which help you fine-tune your look to align with your audience. One thing not to include? Anything you use this phrase about: “What this old thing?” Save that for relaxing back with room service at the hotel after you rock the room at your gig.
You need to connect with them right away and first impressions will get more eyeballs on you and more attention to what your about to talk about. We live in a hyper-visual age, appearance matters and it matters in the first few seconds.
Consider your audience, do your research, know their age, their backgrounds, where they work, their titles, their problems, likes, dislikes, and meet them at the door ready to expand their horizons! If they relate to you, they will connect with you and if they connect with you, you will help them.
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