Dress for Speaking Success

The other day I was asked to join a couple of author friends at a speaking gig in East Texas. My first concern should have been what to say? But I worried more about what to wear? Call me shallow, but the reality is: Fifty-five percent of communication is accomplished by our appearance. I knew speaking at an afternoon tea was an opportunity to promote my books and the various workshops I offer. Winning the trust of these ladies was my goal. To captivate my audience, I needed more than quality verbal content. I needed pleasing non-verbal visuals. Here are the things I took into consideration when choosing my wardrobe:

Speakers get thrown onto all kinds of stages. Stacked chairs were a first for me.

Audience Assessment – Who was I talking to? I knew I would be speaking to older, conservative women who love any excuse to break out the fine china. Most likely their once-a-month meeting was a chance for them to “gussie up” a bit. I wanted my audience to know that I respected them enough to dress up for them. I wore heels … and my feet still haven’t forgiven me.

Comfort – Which brings us to comfort. Shoes should be comfortable. More than likely I would be standing for the presentation. I needed shoes that could take me to the stage without noise, allow me to shift my weight, and facilitate moving about the stage without tripping. A couple of years ago, I wore a pair of new heels on a highly waxed wooden floor and nearly landed on my backside. Memorable, but not my most graceful entry. I do like to wear a bit of a heel because the elevation straightens my spine and makes me feel taller and more confident. Feeling confident allows me to forget about me and authentically concentrate on the message.

Color affects my mood and a dynamic color sets an energetic and positive tone for the audience. Rich greens or vibrant blues pop against almost any backdrop and help your body stand out. I  don’t have to be a flashing neon sign, but I don’t want to revert to black because it makes me look thinner. If the stage is dark, I run the risk of my body disappearing. You may think that is a good thing. But if your body goes away, this leaves only your face to transmit non-verbal clues. From a distance, the audience would miss 55% of my communication. As an aside, blue is always a good choice for the harsh lighting of a TV studio.

Smile – Finally, the most important thing to wear is a confident smile on my face.
We’ll talk more about what to wear and what not to wear. I’d be interested in hearing about your public speaking wardrobe malfunctions.

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About lynnegentry

Wife. Mother. Writer. Acting Coach. Director of Dallas International Performing Arts Academy.
This entry was posted in Costuming, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Dress for Speaking Success

  1. Leanna Ellis says:

    Hi, Lynne! I used to hate to speak but I’ve become much more comfortable with it and actually enjoy it. One of my worst malfunctions though was when I was going to be on TV. I’m not exactly comfortable with that…yet. Since I had to fly, I didn’t want to risk my luggage getting lost (appearing naked or in wrinkled travel clothes would have been HORRIBLE!), so I bought one of those tiny bottles of hairspray and shampoo and such that could be ‘carried on’ the plane. So the morning of the TV appearance, the car was about to pick me up so I finished my hair and sprayed hairspray, a few extra sprays b/c it was raining. Well, then I noticed something did not look right. My hair got very flat and looked greasy. I grabbed the hairspray bottle and discovered it wasn’t hairspray but hair ‘shine’. I had exactly five minutes to wash and dry my hair.

  2. Lynne Gentry says:

    Leanna, appearing naked and wrinkled would be the same thing for me…terrifying! A bad hair day is almost as bad as a wardrobe malfunction!

  3. Funny story, Leanne. One of those things you can look back on and laugh!
    Lynne, you always look nice.
    What I do – look for something in my closet that is not my normal jeans and t-shirt. Ok, found a blouse but still had jeans. but they were nice jeans. : )

  4. jethornton says:

    Good stuff!

    Thanks,

    Jane Thornton

  5. Julie Garmon says:

    Well, I’ve had a couple of mishaps on stage. Once, I fell going up the steps to speak. And another time, I knocked over the microphone–one of those tall ones that made a big ruckus. The pastor’s wife had to rush up and help me. Nothing to do but laugh at myself. The audience seems to follow a speaker’s lead. If she can laugh, they laugh. 🙂 Great post, Lynne. I’ll always be partial to dull, drab greens and browns. Guess I should rethink that.

  6. Lynne Gentry says:

    Julie, I hope you travel with duct tape!

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