Updated: Apr 18, 2018
Last week I was at a conference in Austin, TX and was treated to some of the most amazing speakers I’ve had the privilege of hearing.
Everyone of them was a rockstar and everyone of them had one thing in common in addition to preparing their presentations - they all invested time in planning what they would wear to complement the message they were delivering.
I’d like you to imagine this: you are attending a conference and there’s one speaker you can’t wait to hear. You haven’t met them before, but you’ve seen photos or video on their website or on social media. You can’t wait!
Finally, the moment arrives, the lights dim, and when they walk on to the stage, you immediately try to focus and connect with the image you have of them in your head.
But instead of listening to what they are saying, you are distracted because how they look is in conflict with what you expected to see.
By the time you get dialed in on what they are saying you’ve missed the entire opening of their presentation.
I know I’ve had this happen to me before when there is a disconnect between what I expected and what I experienced.
You can make sure your audience focuses on you and not what you are wearing with a little planning and some homework.
So, if you are ready let’s dive in. I you'd rather, you can listen to the podcast version here.
Think of your presentation as a marketing piece. Ask these questions: who is in your audience, what message do you want to deliver and action do you want them to take? How does your visual appearance support your brand.
When you have an opportunity to have your speech recorded, you want to hit all the right notes not only in your presentation, but in how you look. Invest in something that fits well and makes you feel like a million bucks. It will boost your confidence too.
The first step in preparing your on stage wardrobe is to be clear about who is in your audience. You’ve already done this in preparing your presentation, so make sure you keep that in mind as you plan your wardrobe.
Why does this matter? If you are looking to inspire, you want to exude an energy that supports your message and aligns with your brand. You also want to be in synch with what your audience is wearing.
If what you are wearing is too conservative for a hip crowd or vice versa that would be distracting and create a visual disconnect.
I also recommend that you think about what your presentation might look like a few years from now. If you are wearing the latest fashion trend, will it look dated?
Public speaking expert Nick Morgan has some good advice around this. He suggests you ask yourself “What accessory can you wear, or slight change can you make, that will allow you to stand out from the crowd, without looking freakish?”
His example is if you are wearing business suit to show that you are successful, adding a pair of bright colored sneakers (to let people know you are still hip and rebellious) is one way to be memorable.
I suggest you try this only if that is a true expression of your personality. It’s good to stand out, just don’t let it be a distraction.
The fewer things your audience has to visually process, the more time they will spend listening to and focusing on you!
Episode 6 is all about what accessories to wear or not - avoid things that are shiny and make noise as they are a distraction - you want your audience to focus on you and your message, not what you are wearing. There is a checklist you can download from that episode.
What About Wearing Sleeveless?
This is a question I get asked a lot.
Sleeveless can be a distraction for a couple of reasons. One, if you arms are really buff, your audience will be looking. If they’re not, your audience will be looking.
This is also something you need to pay attention to in respect to the culture you are speaking in. Lots of companies have dress codes that specifically call out sleeveless clothing - so if in doubt, don’t.
There’s also a really interesting study from University of Maryland psychologist Dr. Kurt Gray and his colleagues from Yale University and Northeastern University.
The study suggests the more clothes you are wearing, the more competent you are perceived to be. I’ll put a link to the study in the show notes so you can check it out for yourself.
A sleeveless dress or blouse with a light jacket works well as you are not adding bulk with sleeves and you are adding a nice fashion detail with the jacket. A bonus is you now have a place for your microphone.
Do Your Homework
What does the stage where you are speaking look like?
If you are speaking in a hotel conference room, the background is typically a black or dark blue drape or in some cases, a beige or white wall.
If you want to stand out from your background, you are going to want to wear a contrasting color.
Blues, greens, and shades of pink and purple are safe choices that will direct the focus to you so you stand out from your background.
If you are wearing black on a dark background, you are going to disappear.
White is a challenge because it can cause lighting problems if you have a dark background. In some instances, your background may be a projected image with a lot of white.
If that’s the case, you’ll blend in if you are wearing a white or light outfit. White can also make you look larger on camera.
If you can’t get that information ahead of time, bring a couple of different outfits so you have options. Typically if you are speaking in the morning, you will come in the night before. I like to check out the room ahead of time so I can adapt to any unforeseen challenges.
Lots of time the tech crew is doing last minute tests and they’ll be in the room. Make friends with them and ask if you can do a quick slide run through with the lights up so you can get sense of how bright the lights will be - if you aren’t used to it, it can be very disorienting.
My friend, camera geek and event producer extrordinaire, Rando Martins says it’s always a breath of fresh air when a speaker comes in early to check out the stage, audio and their slides.
He advises that not all fonts are compatible with all programs, and checking in way ahead of time will ensure your slides look the way you intended them to. If you wait until the last minute, they may not be able to make the adjustments necessary and they’ll look that way in your recording. A good reason to check in early, especially if you are going to use your own laptop.
There are lots of compatibility issues, so getting there early helps everyone look their best.
Also, If you are using a lapel microphone, having a place to conceal the body pack is desirable. It’s awkward to have to hold a microphone receiver in your hand while you are navigating slides or to have it hanging off the back of your outfit, which creates an unnecessary distraction for you and your audience.
Women, if you are going to wear a dress, make sure there is a place to clip the receiver and microphone. If you don’t have a belt and a collar, you could end up holding the belt pack and your audio may be less than stellar.
It’s a lot easier for men as they have pockets and waistbands to work with on most clothing.
And it’s a win, win when you know that there’s a place to put your microphone so you’ll look and sound your best. Thanks Rando!
For more on this, check out Episode 5 of Camera Ready with Val Brown for a refresher on what to wear on camera and a pdf checklist you can download.
Comfort Is Key
The third thing is to consider how you will feel on stage in what you are wearing. You want to feel like a million bucks and that means being comfortable too. For most video appearances, you’re not moving around - so when you are on stage, you really need to pay attention to this.
I had a speaking gig where I wore a pair of high heels that were really comfortable for walking around and I loved the way they looked with my outfit. I got to the venue early to check out the stage. Not only was it higher than the producer told me, it was really unstable with steep stairs to climb to get on stage and no hand rail.
Talk about a different definition of stage fright. I couldn’t move around because I was afraid of the rickety stage and didn’t feel comfortable in the shoes I was wearing. How I wished I had another pair of shoes to change into at that moment!
Lesson learned. Bring a back up! To this day, I don’t use that recording because I look so unnatural and sound awful because I was uncomfortable.
Moral of the story, make sure you wear clothes and shoes that are comfortable and easy to move in. If you are uncomfortable, it will show!
And on a final note, if you are speaking after lunch, wait until after you speak to eat - it’s not the best look to be wearing your lunch on the front of your outfit!
Let’s sum it up:
When you are going to be on stage remember the 3 Ws.
First, Who is in your audience and dress appropriately in something that supports your brand and purpose.
Second, What is going on in the room - check out the backdrop, lights and microphone ahead of time and check in early to make sure your slides look good on screen.
And third, Wear something comfortable so you feel like a million bucks and can move easily on stage and be sure you have a place for your microphone.
If you’d like a copy of my checklist on what to wear on camera, you can download it here.
As always, I’d love to hear from you if you have questions about being on camera, I’m happy to answer them in a future blog.
Until then, remember, with a little pre-planning and some homework, you can rock the stage, every time.
Val Brown is an Emmy Award winning television producer, story and visual and personal brand consultant, coach, and speaker. She consults and coaches high performing business professionals and entrepreneurs looking to up their game and increase their confidence and credibility on camera. Val teaches you how to use your story to support your brand in video and photos.
p.s. I’d love to connect on social media and hear your questions and concerns about being in front of the camera.