It doesn’t seem right that we might be judged by how we look, but it’s the truth of the world we live in. In a collection of 39 studies, psychology professor Nalini Ambady found that our ability to process information and form impressions of others is “essential to optimal social and interpersonal functioning.” She goes on to say that these quick judgements we make about others, which she calls “thin slices,” are “rapid, nonconscious, and automatic.” We can’t change the fact that others will make nonconscious judgements about us (or the fact that we will make them about others). However, we can work through some strategies to make those judgements positive, as far as it depends on us. So while we aren’t here to pick out a specific outfit for you, we can help give you some information that will help you choose what is right for you and your speaking occasion.
When deciding what to wear for a presentation, you should think about the image you want to portray and the overall tone of your presentation. Studies show that how we dress affects how credible our audience perceives us to be. To appear credible, you should dress just a step above what most of your audience will be wearing. For instance, if the audience will be dressed casually, you should dress in business casual. If the audience will be dressed in business casual, you should dress more professionally, in business formal. Anything more than a step above your audience might create distance and make you seem unrelatable. Anything less can make you seem careless, unprepared, or unprofessional.
Also, think about who you are representing. If you are presenting for a company, consider wearing colors that match or compliment the company logo and marketing materials. Also, find out what color the backdrop is where you’ll be presenting, and wear a color that contrasts the backdrop. Your outfit is part of your communication. Take time to think about what it’s saying.
Movement & Comfort
When considering your outfit, also think about your movement and comfort. You don’t want anything that is too tight or restrictive. Choose an outfit that lets you fully focus on your presentation and your audience. Most companies have adopted a business causal dress code which allows for many options for both men and women.
Use those options to your advantage by minimizing wardrobe issues that might arise when you are presenting. If you have a habit of putting your hands in your pockets, think about wearing something without pockets. If you aren’t stable in heels, opt for flats. If you know that you might get nervous and sweat, opt for a black or white top. If you aren’t sure what the room temperature will be, wear layers that give you options.
Personal Grooming Habits
Remember that your image isn’t just about the clothes you pull out of your closet. When you present, people are going to be examining you more closely, so it’s important that you are well-groomed. Take time to trim your facial hair. Pay attention to how your nails look. Make sure your clothes are free from wrinkles. If you live with pets, you might consider keeping a lint roller in your car. Also, many speakers get nervous and fidget, twisting a strand of hair or a piece of jewelry as they talk. So consider that when choosing your hairstyle or the jewelry you’ll wear for your presentation.
The key to choosing the ideal outfit for presenting is to minimize distractions both for you and the audience. Be strategic about the choices you make. And if possible, pick out your outfit a few days in advance. That gives you time for a dress rehearsal to make sure everything goes well on the big day.
For more ways to prepare yourself for a big speaking event, register for our online presentation skills course and achieve presentation greatness.