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3 Simple But Effective Tips To Looking Great On Stage

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.