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Presentation Preparation: 5 Tips on What to Wear

December 8, 2014 / Blog presentation preparation, presentation tips, what to wear for presentations

black suitGreat presenters know the importance of first impressions. While you should certainly work hard to prepare a well-crafted presentation, you also need to consider how the audience might perceive you. As we’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, it’s in our nature to form hasty opinions and make quick generalizations. It might not be ideal, but a lot of us will form impressions based on arbitrary factors. Among those factors is what others choose to wear. As Forbes contributor, Nick Morgan points out, “the clothes make the woman and the man.”

To get the audience on your side, you need to show them that you’re a credible and reliable source. In other words, you’ll have to establish rapport by making a positive first impression. We spend a lot of time carefully planning and preparing visuals that will help enhance our presentations. Why can’t the same be true for the way we present ourselves to an audience? If you do it right, the clothes you wear can be a great way to make a statement and inject some personality into your presentation.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you’re deciding what to wear for a presentation:

Dress for the occasion

As with most things, presentation wear depends on the context of a given situation. Before you can decide which clothes to wear, you need to consider key details about your presentation. Even if they seem unrelated to clothing, the information you have will actually help you set some parameters and decide what type of look you should go for.

What is your presentation about? If you’re set to deliver an executive report, it makes sense to be in business formal attire. On the other hand, if you’re leading a seminar, you might be allowed to go for something a little less formal. What about the venue of your presentation? If you’re presenting within your organization, your choice of clothing will obviously depend on a specific dress code. If you’ll be at a trade show or conference, you can take into account the culture within the industry. Those working in more creative fields can opt to wear something casual. Meanwhile, people working in investment and finance will be restricted to more conservative choices like tailor-fit suits and dress shirts.

Think of what the audience might wear

Another way to figure out an appropriate attire is by thinking of what the audience might wear. If there’s one rule to keep in mind about what to wear for presentations, it’s that you should always dress slightly better than the people you’re addressing. Who are you expecting in your audience? If you’re delivering an executive presentation, come to the venue in your best suit. For less formal crowds, your safest bet is to dress in business casual.

Business casual is your middle ground. It’s the perfect choice for situations when you’re not expecting a highly formal crowd, but you don’t want to risk looking too sloppy either. Scott Schwertly of Ethos3 describes it as “the grey zone of office dressing.” For men, you can opt to dress down your button-down shirts with a pair of khakis and loafers. James Wilson, a contributor for the Business Insider, provides a complete guide to business casual for men. For women, you can choose to wear your trousers with a blouse and cardigan. The blog Corporette offers some pretty useful tips for women struggling to find the balance between formal and casual.

Don’t neglect comfort

Body language plays an important role in presentation delivery. As we’ve noted before, you can’t just stand in one spot throughout an hour-long presentation. Audiences want to see something dynamic and engaging. To do that, you need to be mindful of your non-verbal cues. Wearing clothes that restrict your movement will definitely harm your ability to deliver a great presentation.

Prioritize your comfort by wearing clothes that fit you well. If you wear anything that’s too tight or too loose, you might eventually find yourself fidgeting with your clothes. To avoid distracting the audience, wear clothes that you don’t have to adjust constantly. For women, expect that you’ll be on your feet for most of the time. Heels might add an elegant touch to what you’re wearing, but they might also cause you great discomfort after some amount of time. If you’re someone who isn’t used to wearing high heels, you can opt for wedges or low-heeled dress shoes instead.

Avoid bright colors or distracting prints

As a presenter, it’s your job to make sure that the audience remains attentive and engaged. Considering how short our attention spans have gotten, you should assume that the littlest things can easily prove distracting. Aside from constantly fidgeting with your clothes, you can also distract the audience by wearing pieces with bright colors and over-the-top prints.

While an interesting design can add personality to your outfit, anything that’s too loud can easily attract unwanted attention. To experiment with color, choose a more muted shade and balance it out with something more neutral. For example, you can opt to wear a deep green tie paired with classic colors like white, black, or grey.

For women, you can add a bit of creativity to your outfits by wearing some jewelry. When choosing accessories, make sure you avoid pieces that are too large or noisy like hoop earrings and bangles. Instead, you can go for a simple necklace and a pair of stud earrings.

Pay close attention to details

Once you’ve finally decided on what to wear, you need to make sure that every detail is perfect for your presentation. While the audience might not see that your shirt is missing a button from afar, they might notice it once you’re networking around the room. Check the clothes you want to wear for anything amiss, like a loose thread or a small stain. You should also take the time to polish your shoes. For women, be sure to check your stockings for runs. If you notice wrinkles on your shirt right before you face the audience, you can check our presentation hack for a quick fix.

Aside from that, it’s also important to make sure your hair is well-groomed. Women should keep their hair out of their face with a bun or a ponytail. It’s also important to have a bit of makeup on. Meanwhile, men should always make sure to trim or shave their facial hair.

Remember that first impression are especially crucial when delivering presentations. Control how the audience perceives you by taking extra care with the clothes you choose to wear.


Images: Robert Sheie via Flickr