They say that between 40-45% of people are afraid of public speaking. Thankfully, given my profession, I’m not one of them. I have no problem getting up in front of a room of hundreds of people or even getting on live television, which I have done over 100 times. Given my experience with public speaking, along with all the clients I have worked with who speak publicly for a living, I have plenty of experiences styling women for public speaking and in this post I am going to share some of my tips. It doesn’t matter if you are giving talks to a small group or taking the stage to speak to many, you will definitely glean some worthy advice in this post.
Stylish Tips for Public Speaking
It should go without saying that good grooming is essential, and I’m not just speaking about the obvious things like neat hair, manicured nails and polished shoes. Check your hems, make sure your clothing is pressed and neat and be mindful it doesn’t wrinkle from excessive movement. You can try something like the wrinkle test by balling up the fabric of a garment in your hand and using the body heat to warm it up. After a few seconds, let the fabric go. If the fabric wrinkles easily after releasing it, it isn’t a fabric you want to wear to speak. Remember, body temperatures often go up when speaking due to nerves, making becoming a disheveled mess much easier. Also, watch for fabrics that don’t breathe, you don’t want sweat stains either.
You also want to try sitting and bending in what you plan to wear. You may not actually sit or bend when you speak, but these are smart checks to see if your skirt is too short, your slit to high or your neckline to low for speaking.
Lastly, tailoring. This is essential. I don’t care how much you spend on the clothes you speak in, if the sleeves of your jacket is too long, the hems not properly adjusted or there is a general ill-fitting quality to what you wear, you’re not going to communicate a powerful message.
Know your audience and create a style that matches your message
A few years ago, a client of mine was getting ready to go on the Today Show to speak on behalf of a non-profit organization she was a part of. As we talked about what she was going to wear, we discussed her wearing a pair of Louboutins. Despite being able to afford these shoes, my client and I agreed it wasn’t appropriate because of the messaging in what she was speaking about. Given the fact she was representing a non-profit organization we decided that being showy with expensive labels would muddy that or potentially make it hard to relate to her in shoes that were obviously expensive.
Hillary Clinton fell into a similar trap several months ago when she allegedly wore a $12,000 Armani jacket during a speech about income equality. While the story isn’t entirely true, the jacket wasn’t $12,000, but it was still very expensive, and it was not worn during a speech about income equality, the damage was done and people discussed it for weeks. Talk about a distraction from issues that were actually important.
Of course, people asked me for my opinion on the jacket she wore. My feeling was the price of the jacket made very little difference to me, even if she was speaking on income equality. Yet, the mistake I felt Hillary made was choosing a wardrobe piece that was so identifiable. Had the jacket been a basic black Armani style of a similar price point nobody would have been able to recognize the designer or probably care. After all, do you think she’s the first presidential candidate to spend a lot of money on their clothes?
So, yes, considering your audience and creating a style that matches your messaging is crucial, however, it does not mean you have to shy away from quality brands or designer pieces if it won’t resonate with your audience. Just don’t be so blatant about it.
Knowing your audience and your messaging goes beyond whether or not to wear expensive clothing. Are you talking to seniors, co-workers, children, a group you hope to impress? My public speaker clients often have looks in the closet for their “fashionable clients”, like top beauty brands and fashion houses and then more serious looks for their finance and bank speaking events. Understand that what you communicate in what you wear is equally important as the messaging that comes out of your mouth.
Keep the focus on your face
When you aren’t speaking, having what you wear flatter your face is smart because, ultimately, you want people to notice you, not what you are wearing. It’s not mandatory, and some people prefer to make a statement with their clothes. Yet, when speaking publicly it’s a different story. You want people to focus on what you are saying, not what you are wearing, and it’s important to create a seamlessness between your face and your clothing so people notice you. Mind the contrast level in what you wear. Make sure your don’t wear color combinations that are too bold or jarring if you don’t have the personal coloring to match. Black and white patterns and prints can be extremely loud and if you can’t pull off that much contrast you risk having to work doubly hard to be heard. Here is more information on contrast level in this post.
Simple is typically better when choosing accessories for public speaking. Again, you want how you accessorize to enhance you, not distract, when speaking. Keep in mind the following.
- Earrings shouldn’t be larger than your eye socket. Anything bigger and a distraction could be created.
- Earrings length shouldn’t hang longer than the point where your jaw bone angles. Trace your finger from where your jab bone meets the bottom of your ear down towards your chin. The place where you jaw bone begins to angle is the longest point your earrings should be.
- Avoid fussy scarves. Scarves can be fine if they are neat and placed. Scarves that require constant adjusting are a distraction. They can also be difficult if you are going to be wearing a lapel-style microphone. Nobody wants to listen to the rustling of scarf fabric over what you have to say.
- Don’t stack your bracelets. Stacking multiple bracelets on one wrist has been a popular trend. It’s fine if you’re not speaking, but if you are, there is a potential for distracting clanging. One bracelet is better than several. Noisy accessories in general should be avoided.
Keeping it simple doesn’t mean boring when public speaking. Subtle pops can go a long way of upgrading a basic look. Having one good suit on hand that is classic enough so it can be easily changed up a different ways means you could get more with less. All you need are some different tops, jewelry and shoes to mix things up.
In the outfit above, I chose a suit from Reiss (link to jacket, like to pants) in navy. I selected this color over black because navy is much less stark, somber and generally flattering on the skin. Navy is also a color that evokes feelings of loyalty, trustworthiness, reliability and honesty. Underneath the suit, I added an ivory sleeveless blouse from Elie Tahari and used the shoes to add a pop of interest, a pair of pink and navy pumps from Shoes of Prey. Lastly, I brought the pink near the face using these earrings. Through these touches, the outfit remains simple yet isn’t forgettable.
Dresses are fine choices for speaking. If you are choosing a dress, there are a few things to be mindful of. First, bar arms are rarely acceptable when public speaking. If you want to wear a sleeveless dress be sure to have a layering piece, like a blazer, to wear over it. If you select a dress with sleeves that can stand alone, look for a style with some interest that isn’t overpowering. Avoid lots of ruffles, crazy patterns, or too many details. Instead, consider dresses with details like interesting seaming or necklines to bring some novelty without going overboard. You don’t want to over accessorize your dresses when speaking so these subtle details will go a long way.
The dress above from L.K. Bennett is a perfect example. It has sleeves making a jacket or layering piece optional. Next, the dress is basic but has interesting seaming and an asymmetrical neckline to create subtle interest without being distracting. The dress is finished with leg lengthening nude pumps from Sam Edelman, acceptable drop earrings from Robert Lee Morris and a gold bangle from Ann Taylor.
This last looks proves that a public speaking look doesn’t have to be boring. The focal point is the skirt from BOSS Hugo Boss but the outfit is balanced by the whole look working together and harmonizing so you notice the ensemble and not just the skirt. Plus, the strong shoulders of the blazer pulls the focus upward towards the face. The print of the skirt is professional and there isn’t an issue with contrast level because the print isn’t up near the face. Keep in mind, however, the ivory blouse from Reiss under the black blazer does create a decent amount of contrast, so if your coloring is super soft you might want to be cautious of it overpowering you. To add some additional pop that is harmonious, I used these green suede pumps from Cole Haan and finished the look with this layered necklace from Stella & Dot and stud earrings from Lagos.
Beyond public speaking
You may not be getting up in front of a large group of people to giving a presentation, but public speaking happens beyond being on stage with a microphone. These tips apply whenever you are presenting yourself to others, be it going on an interview, a sales call or speaking to a group at work. Remember these tips whenever you want to put your best foot forward.