They say that clothes maketh the man. But how you dress makes more than just a statement when you are presenting or public speaking.
Sure, you may find the perfect dress, or the sharpest suit, but did you know you have a lot more to consider when picking out your outfit.
Here is the advice that we give to the speakers where we help suggest what to wear, and what to avoid.
Go with simple, bright, pastel colors that can make you easy to spot. You want to stand out, so it’s ok to be flamboyant in your dress.
Avoid all black, all white, and small stripes or chequered designs, these will make you look washed out, or fuzzy on video and in photos.
Dress to match, or be slightly smarter than your audience. Look at event photos and see what they are wearing. Is it business suits? Is it smart-casual? Is it very trendy?
Try to fit in with the vibe of the event, and be slightly smarter or more formal than the average audience member.
Speak to your sound technician before you speak to your hairstylist. If possible, have your stylist with you backstage to make last minute alterations.
Learn how headsets fit around your head, and adjust your hairstyle accordingly.
Remember, you may have to remove your headset quickly to give to the next speaker. Speak to your sound technician so that they don’t ruin your hair when you take the headset off.
If you have hair that will cause you lots of complications with a headset mic, speak to your event organisers and consider presenting from a lectern microphone, handheld microphone or using a microphone stand.
Go for dark colours, blue, charcoal grey, or very deep burgundy red.
A flash of bright colors underneath smart business attire can really help attract attention. Make sure that you are easy to spot. Flashes of bright orange, purple, gold or yellow help you stand out.
If your talk, or your personality suggests a style of dress, make sure you use it.
You can dress to show your authority. Olympic athletes should wear their medals, soldiers should wear their rank or uniform. Police should wear their professional outfits. Creative people should wear the clothes that make them feel the most creative. Business speakers should wear what makes them feel like a million dollars.
For many people, clothing helps with confidence. Looking good means you are feeling good. Select the clothing that you are happy in, that makes you feel strong and confident.
Practice moving and walking in your clothing, so that you feel good at every angle.
In general, unless you are very uncomfortable in your outfit, try to make sure that you are wearing the same clothing and color combinations throughout the conference. Don’t change into an off-stage outfit. This will allow people to spot you on stage, and then identify you afterwards. This can really help a lot with networking.
Yes. Every country has different meanings and symbolisms around colors of outfits. For some, red can mean danger or death, for others, white is unlucky. Check to make sure that your outfit is sending the right signals whenever you speak abroad.
Can your clothes match your job?
Your clothing is an important part of your storytelling. So if your talk is about your profession, make sure you dress the part.
If you are a trainee astronaut, wear your space suit. If you are a firefighter, wear your fire fighting equipment. Matching your outfit to your talk makes you memorable, and also makes you credible. There is no need to blend in with the boring suit brigade if you have a uniform that gives a deeper connection to your story.
Your uniform doesn’t even have to be clean. Zookeeper and biologist Jenette Hedeager told me “If you don’t have elephant dung on your clothes, did you do a good days work?”. So her outfit was completed with smatterings of genuine elephant dung on her trousers.
You may want to match your outfit to illustrate the culture you are talking about, like Asger Kreilgaard did during his talk about work in the Calais Jungle camp.
Bring two outfits
No matter how perfect your clothes are, your decision of what to wear can be ruined by a simple spill of a glass of water. Always bring 2 complete sets of clothes, a main set, and a back up, just in case. During a live event, anything can happen, and it can be very easy to ruin your perfect outfit, so bring a back up.
If you are traveling via plane to the venue, always place at least one full outfit in your carry-on bags. It’s amazing how many times bags go missing or get delayed.
Avoid all black
Many events will take place against a black backdrop, so dressing from head to toe in black can make you look like a head floating in mid air. Try to give yourself a bit of contrast from the background.
Avoid white shirts
Bright white shirts, or white tops can also cause problems. When talks are videoed, white shirts or tops can cause a speakers face to look “bloomed out”. This is because bright stage lights bounce off of white clothing, and it can wash out the details on your face, especially if you have a pale complexion. Your shirt will look fine in real life, but it may look terrible on the video.
Avoid stripes or checkered designs
Again, when it comes to video recording, stripes and checkered designs can sometimes look “fuzzy”. Especially if the stripes are thin. To the human eye, everything will look fine, but on video stripes clothes can take on a life of their own, creating a trippy visual effect. Instead, go for bold, plane colours.
Make sure you can move
Check that your clothes are not too tight, so that you can move freely. You will most likely be using lots of body language during your speech, so make sure that your arms and legs are unrestricted. Make sure you can breath correctly, and things are not too tight.
Have a place for the microphone pack
During your talk, you will most likely be wearing a hands-free headset style microphone. This microphone has a battery pack that is about the same size and weight as a deck of cards.
You will need a place to put this microphone pack. An inside jacket pocket or trouser pocket is the most effective place. The microphone also has a belt clip, so it can easily be worn around a belt or strong part of clothing.
If you are wearing a very delicate dress, tight-fitting outfit, or backless dress, consider where the microphone might go. In some cases the only solution is to physically tape the microphone pack directly onto your skin, and this can be uncomfortable and slightly awkward to remove. When selecting your outfit, always think of a place to hide your microphone pack.
Make sure your hair and glasses can work with the microphone
In most cases you will be given a microphone that wraps around the back of your head, over your ears. You may have only a few minutes backstage to get your microphone on, with the help of a sound technician.
If you have a lot of long hair, or larger hair style, make sure you get set up with your microphone in advance. If you need glasses, make sure they still sit comfortably behind your ears when the microphone is attached to your head.
Do you need pockets for emergency notes?
If you are worried you may forget your words, and want to take notes on stage with you, it can be a good idea to select an outfit with pockets that you can conceal a “cheat sheet” of bullet pointed notes in. If your talk is well rehearsed, you wont need this, but it can be a good thing to think about when making your outfit choice.
Remove anything “fiddly”
When you talk, you may be tempted to make unconscious hand movements. You may twiddle or fiddle with parts of your outfit. Some speakers twist their cufflinks, wrap their fingers around their necklaces or pull at their sleeves. If you are tempted to adjust parts of your outfit during your talk, consider changing it for something less fidgety.
If you have hair that falls over your face, and you find yourself constantly flicking it back, or brushing it aside, try changing your hairstyle so it doesn’t become a distraction.
Remove jangly jewlery
Your microphone will be very sensitive, and it is very common for earrings to jangle and bash against the side of your headset microphone, making a very loud noise for the audience, and ruining the audio quality of your talk. Make sure you remove any jewellery like necklaces, earrings or bracelets that make even the smallest amount of noise.
If you must wear earrings, please only wear “stud” type earrings that will not move and will not bash against your microphone.
Listen to your shoes
You may be very interested in how your shoes look, but also pay attention to how they sound. Small clicking noises can really be amplified by a large stage, and in a completely silent room, the sound of a single pair of heels can be really noticeable.
Even if your plan is to walk on stage and stand on a single point without moving your feet, most people sway from side to side, or take a couple of small steps from one side to another. So really listen to your shoes.
Also, remember that while most TEDx stages are made of a hard wooden surface, the famous “red dot” that you often see at TEDx events is commonly made of carpet. This carpet can be quite thick. So make sure you are comfortable on both types of surface in your shoes.
Avoid logos on your clothing
Try to avoid clothing with clearly prominent logos displayed on it. This includes not just the logos of the clothing brands, but also your own company logo. It can be tempting to throw on a branded T-shirt with your company name on it, but that really isn’t necessary, and can look a little sales-y.
Consider multiple layers
Wearing multiple different layers, with different colours and textures, can really help you stand out. Especially on the top half of your body.
Wearing a jacket, jumper, or other extra layer on top can help in two ways.
Firstly, it can help give you an extra layer of protection for leaking visible sweat patches under your armpits. Speaking is a sweaty job, and under the hot lights you are going to sweat a lot faster, so if you can, cover up.
Secondly, your microphone will have a long wire that will extend from the microphone pack (typically placed in your pocket) that snakes up to the back of your head. This microphone wire can look a little ugly on photographs, and the TEDx photography team will catch you from every angle. By having an extra layer, your sound technician can run the wire under your jacket, hiding it as much as possible.
Consider placement of props and clickers
During your talk, perhaps you will use a prop of some kind. Make sure that the pocket that you keep your prop in is the right size, and is easily accessible.
If you will be using a clicker for only a small part of your talk, consider if you will store the clicker in your pocket for part of your talk. If so, decide exactly where it will go.
You will want to keep your hands free as much as possible, so make sure things go in and out of your pockets smoothly.
If you are unable to place your props inside a pocket, ask for a table to be placed on stage where you can easily place and retrieve things.