5 Tips for Dressing for Success While Presenting
by Gilda Bonanno
What should I wear when I present?" One of my coaching clients asked me this question recently. While it might sound more like a question for a style consultant, it's also an appropriate question for a presentation skills coach like me.
In addition to your presentation content and delivery, how you dress and present yourself can affect the success of your presentation. Like your non-verbal communications, how you dress should support the message you are communicating and not distract from it.
What you wear is particularly important in a high-stakes presentation, but it's also important in any presentation, especially if it's your first time speaking to this audience or you're very nervous.
Here are 5 tips for dressing for success while presenting, no matter what the occasion:
1. Dress appropriately
What is considered appropriate depends on the audience and the venue. For example, if I'm performing improv comedy for entertainment at the monthly meeting of a women's social club, I usually wear nice jeans. If I'm doing an improv workshop at a Fortune 500 company, however, I wear a business suit. If you're not sure what is appropriate, ask the meeting planner or the person who invited you to speak. And if you're not sure what looks good on you or what is age-appropriate, consult a style expert or work with the personal shopping service at any major department store.
2. Dress comfortably
No, I'm not talking about wearing sweats or pajamas, but appropriate clothes that allow you to breathe and feel comfortable. For example, if you're wearing high-heeled shoes that hurt your feet or pants with a tight waistband, you will not be focused on communicating your message. I have a client who feels very warm when she's nervous – so I suggested she avoid heavy sweaters and instead, wear layers so she can remove a layer (like a jacket) if she's feeling too warm.
3. Do a dress rehearsal
If your outfit is not something you're used to wearing, practice wearing it while delivering your presentation. For example, if you normally wear khaki pants and a polo shirt, practice wearing the suit and tie so you're not fidgeting with the tie or your shirt collar instead of focusing on your message.
4. Consider your props
If you'll be wearing a lavaliere or clip-on microphone, plan ahead how you will wear it. Lavaliere microphones can be clipped easily on a tie or jacket lapel, but if you don't have one of those, you have to figure out where else you can clip it. Also plan where you will put the microphone unit, especially if you don't have a pocket or sturdy waistband.
5. Bring or wear something meaningful
Many of my clients find it helpful to have with them an item with special meaning. Especially if you're nervous, having some kind of physical reminder of something special can help calm your nerves. For example, you could wear a necklace that your husband gave you, the watch you received when you got promoted or the ring you bought on your vacation to Hawaii. You could even keep something in your pocket, like a religious medal, or bring a special pen or business card case. Of course, you should not play with the item while speaking and it shouldn't be distracting (no bracelets that clink loudly when you move your arm). The item is not a superstitious good luck charm, but a reminder of support and a boost of confidence.
When you do a final check in the mirror before you present, you should be able to smile at yourself and feel confident. If you follow these 5 tips, you and your audience will be able to focus on your presentation rather than being distracted by your clothes.
Gilda Bonanno is a speaker, trainer and coach who helps people from all walks of life improve their communication and presentation skills.
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