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What to Wear for Your Presentation

Have you consdidered what to wear for your presentation? As a presenter, you can set the stage for your presentation as soon as you step up to the podium. How do you do that? By wearing clothes that present you as a competent professional.

It’s easy to get caught up in the presentation content, the audience, the goals for the event, and your presentation, but don’t forget the impact your physical appearance has on the audience.

If you’ve ever given job interviews, you’ll understand that a candidate who dresses appropriately for the business environment wins head and shoulders over someone who shows up in their workout gear. Even though the casual candidate may be well qualified for the position, they lost the job before opening their mouth if they violated the cultural dress code. Don’t let that be you.

Levels of formality

When considering what to wear for your presentation, it may be a relief to know there are just three types of dress codes:

  • Formal business. These functions that call for formal business attire include awards ceremonies or the annual Christmas party at an elegant hotel. Men typically wear a dark suit, dress shirt, tie, and matching leather shoes. Formal business attire for women includes a skirt or dress with pantyhose and high heel pumps.
  • Business professional. The dress code is similar to formal business. The only difference is you’re not wearing your highest-end suit, dress or shoes. For men, it’s still a business suit, ties optional, matching shoes, and for women, a suit or dress. It has become the norm for men to wear dress shirts without ties. Ties are considered old-fashioned in many business cultures. Business professional leans on the conservative side for colour and style and steers away from flashy prints, fabrics or loud colours.
  • Business casual. Most businesses have a standardized dress code for business casual to prevent their staff from going too far over the top (cut-off shorts, flip flops, etc.). Jeans, khaki’s, casual shirts, sweaters or blouses, and comfortable footwear are typically the norm with business casual. Regardless of clothing style, business casual still requires tidy, neat, and clean clothing and groomed appearance.

Always dress up – never dress down

When deciding what to wear for your presentation – the rule of thumb for what to wear during your presentation is to dress one level up from your audience. For example, if they are dressing in business casual attire, you would dress business formal. If they are dressing casually, you will dress business casual. Make sense? Why one step up? Because by dressing a little better than your audience,  you establish yourself as an authority that belongs to the group and respects the audience and the event.

If you’ve just bought a new suit or dress, make sure you’ve cut off every label and price tag and have done a dress rehearsal first. You don’t want people chuckling during your serious presentation because they see a price tag dangling from your underarm.

Check with the event organizers in advance to understand the culture of the event, and plan to bring Plan B clothing, such as a tie or a suit jacket.

A word about colour

Have you ever wondered why financial institutions use blue or green and why police and security wear black?  There is a psychology behind colour that you employed when selecting your logo, business cards, and marketing materials.  Colours represent different qualities and can establish a tone. Before choosing colours, ask yourself if the colour of your outfit supports your band image?

In western culture;

  • Blue represents loyalty and trustworthiness.
  • Green signifies money, nature, and calm.
  • Red characterizes high energy, and negative authority (red lights, stop signs, etc.), and sexiness.
  • Purple embodies royalty, spirituality, creativity.
  • Yellow represents peace and innocence.
  • Orange signifies extroversion, creativity, and joy.
  • Black characterizes power, formality, elegance, death, evil, mystery, and creativity.

As is the case now, many presentations are done in front of the video camera or the computer screen. If you are presenting online, stay away from whites or blacks because the camera boosts contrast and can blind or overwhelm the viewer. Avoid patterns since they can create an optical illusion.

Fit

I once attended a conference with a series of presenters. 20 years later, I still remember one of the female presenters who was wearing a blazer that looked three sizes too big. I was distracted by it throughout her entire presentation. The audience can’t see a designer label, but they will notice how well your suit or dress fits you.  A well-fitted suit or dress performs two functions. It feels comfortable, and it flatters your body type. Depending on the amount of movement during your presentation, clothes that fit close to the body yet allow basic movement are considered well-fitting clothes in western culture. If you’re unsure, do a dress rehearsal with your presentation outfit to see if you can maneuver as needed.

Style

Your style is part of your brand and defines your way of doing things. Do you have a go-to outfit that makes you feel like a million bucks? That’s probably the one that will create a feeling of instant confidence and conveys your authority. [GD1] Whatever your style, don’t try to be something you’re not. Gentlemen – if you don’t quite understand fashion– don’t try to pull off the jeans and blazer look with your 30-year-old baggy sweatpant style jeans and any suit jacket you pulled out of your closet.  That hip look calls for high-end tailored jeans and a matching blazer. If your informal event calls for jeans and t-shirts, be sure your t-shirt is devoid of any logos (that are not your own) or distracting expressions or patterns.

Does your outfit accommodate a Lavalier?

The best location for your Lavalier is the center of your chest—the second button. For men, this is easy, as button-down shirts are the norm. For ladies, it can be trickier. Before you spend on a presentation outfit, make sure it has a convenient place to clip your Lavalier.

Attention

Where do you want your audience to focus their attention during your presentation? This may seem like a silly question, but you want the audience to look at your face, and if you have crazy coloured socks or shoes, they’ll focus on your feet. Similarly, if you have distracting jewelry, they’ll concentrate on your jewelry. If you are uncertain of how to apply your makeup or style your hair, many excellent services can steer you on the right course. You want to be the center of attention, not your accessories, hair, or makeup.

Speaking of attention, were you issued a big shiny white conference name tag? Take it off before you stand on stage. Although you may want to blind the audience with your brilliance, you don’t want to blind them with your nametag.

Putting the pieces together

Ultimately, what to wear during your presentation involves wearing clothing that shows respect for the audience and supports your message and branding. The right outfit can make an important impression on the audience; the wrong outfit can hijack your credibility.

When it comes to dressing for your presentations, the parts are the sum of the whole. The clothes don’t make the man or woman, but they sure help. Take the time to carefully plan and consider your outfit so that it supports you and your presentation.

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