"I base most of my fashion sense on what doesn't itch" ~~ Gilda Radner
If asked, most of us would say we want to look our best when we are at the front of a room, presenting to a group of people. However, in the flurry of pulling content together, finishing slides and producing handouts, we don't always give enough thought to the role our clothes play in our presentation.
Now I'm not advocating buying a new outfit every time you give a presentation (although...if you need an excuse...), but choosing appropriate clothing can help you feel more confident in front of an audience and can ensure that your physical appearance is not distracting from your message.
Here are some wardrobe tips to keep the focus off your clothing and on what you're saying.
1. Your image will speak volumes about you before you even open your mouth. Make sure it's saying the right things. Does your conservative suit and muted tie support your creative, innovative image? Does your blouse with the low cut neckline cry senior executive? Certainly different corporate cultures will embrace different styles. But the point is to be sure your clothing is indeed communicating the desired image.
2. Dress for the audience. Dress so they get a visually pleasing picture but not so they're distracted by your array of non-matching patterns, bold designs or heels so high you look like you're going to trip. Your audience shouldn't be more engaged by your clothing than they are by your message.
"Seldom do people discern eloquence under a threadbare cloak" ~~ Juvenal
3. Be the best dressed person in the room. Always dress a notch (but not two) above the standard attire as a compliment to your audience. It adds to your credibility.
4. Wear comfortable clothing. If you are tugging at clothes that don't fit properly or fidgeting with a neckline that's too low, it will be a disruption for your audience and will undermine your confidence. Determine what you're going to wear a few days before the presentation, try it on and move around in it. This also lets you determine if your outfit needs pressing or cleaning.
5. If you have pockets in whatever you're wearing, empty them before the presentation. There are few things more annoying than watching a presenter playing with pocket contents. And if those contents create noise (like coins or keys), it's doubly annoying.
6. Ensure that all your clothing is in good repair. That means hems should be secure, suits and shirts pressed, no obvious stains or rips.
7. Shoes deserve a special mention. In many cases, your shoes are at the audience's eye level if you're on a stage. Shoes should be polished and heels should not be worn down. Shoes shouldn't squeak. And ladies, if the three inch heels that look fabulous are so uncomfortable you can't get your mind off them, you certainly won't be at your best for your audience.
8. Choose jewelry carefully. Jewelry is a striking complement to most outfits, but if it's huge and jangly, it will be distracting. If a bracelet slides up and down your arm every time you gesture, if there's jingling every time you make hand movements, if your earrings are so huge that people can't take their eyes off them, your audience is going to be focused on these distractions.
"When in doubt, wear red" ~~ Bill Blass
9. Hair should be neatly trimmed and in a style which doesn't encourage you to play with it. One of my biggest peeves is women who have long hair and are constantly flipping and flinging it around. It's as if the hair takes on a persona of its own! This is typically a nervous habit and when done obsessively, it is painful for an audience to watch.
10.Makeup is an enhancement for most everyone, particularly if you are speaking to a large group and may appear rather small way up on stage. For women, eye makeup highlights the eyes and makes them more expressive. Guys, you may consider a bit of powder or foundation makeup if you are speaking under very bright lights or have a shiny complexion.
11.If you're traveling any distance to the presentation, try not to travel in the clothes you'll present in. They'll look wrinkled and you run the risk of picking up a stain or a rip during the journey.
Many of these tips just take some attention to detail. If you're not sure what image you convey, a videotape of your presentation can help you analyze what works well and what might need to change.
What other wardrobe tips have worked for you?