Dress Code for a Public Speaker
I was attending an international seminar recently featuring a number of Public Speakers. While chatting to delegates over a pre-session coffee in the smart, well-appointed Hotel lounge, my partner and I commented on the diversity …of dress code among the attendees. We often discussed what to wear at these events. Most people were dressed either in what has become the ‘smart casual’ style, many were in business suits, some in jeans and sports shirts etc.
One particular guest stood out and initially we thought he was a ‘gatecrasher’ hoping for some free coffee and information, wearing an old T-shirt, drab grey, long baggy shorts and sandals. Coffee break over, we filed into the conference room, eagerly awaiting the first presentation of the day. After a brief introductory talk outlining the programme for the day, by the smartly suited host of the seminar, our first Speaker was introduced and emerged on to the impressively designed stage. The speaker stepped out of the shadows and into the spotlight revealing … our ‘gatecrasher!
Unfortunately the first few minutes of his talk, the all-important ‘Introduction’ just didn’t register with us, or, I’m sure, with the majority of the delegates, most of whom were somewhat taken aback by the attire of the speaker. The rest of his presentation was not too bad, but the damage was done, the ‘first impression’ was made! And don’t forget, you never get a second chance to make a first impression!
So, what is ‘correct attire’ for a Public Speaker? This is one of those questions, which, because it revolves around a constantly changing perception, does not have a definite answer. The standards vary from place to place, culture to culture, and even from year to year.
Perhaps if we ask a few pertinent questions, the answers you give in the context of your speaking assignment should act as a general guide, for example;
- How do you want your audience to see you?
- Will your dress code inspire confidence in your listener?
- Will your appearance distract your audience?
- Will it detract from your message?
- Will your audience recall what you said, or just what you looked like?
- Are you physically comfortable in what you will wear?
- How are you dressed in relation (or comparison) to your audience members?
- Does your mode of dress have any flexibility (i.e. if you find you are uncomfortably hot on stage, can you remove a jacket, for example and still look OK?)
- Do you feel confident or self conscious in what you are wearing?
If you can give honest answers to these questions, you should have few problems in choosing the appropriate clothing for your presentation. One experienced speaker offered the following advice, “Always try to dress just a little better than your average listener”, which I think sounds pretty sensible.
Whatever you feel is suitable for your situation, the overall maxim that it should be clean and well valeted, always holds good. Check out your wardrobe and make sure that whatever you choose is ready to wear, (there is nothing worse than discovering at the last minute, that what you intended to wear is at the cleaners, or still in the linen basket, or has a button missing etc.!)
Dress well, feel good, and deliver!