What to Wear for Public Speaking

what to wear for public speakingI’ve got a short little speech to give for an alumni mentoring thing in a few weeks, so my attention has turned to the important stuff: what to wear. (I’m being sarcastic here — obviously the content of your speech is the most important part!) But, considering that this is a fashion blog for overachieving chicks, I thought it might make an interesting conversation, particularly for those of you who do this more regularly — what are your tips for what to wear for public speaking engagements, whether it’s giving a CLE, speaking at a class, being interviewed on TV, giving a presentation to the board, or being in front of a jury? What should you consider for different kinds of speaking engagements? What clothes and outfits strike the best balance between comfort/professionalism for a public speaker? 

Some considerations I’ve thought of for what to wear for public speaking engagements:

  • If you’ll be standing behind a podium the whole time… Comfortable shoes for the win! Also note that pockets matter less because you can put your iPhone/bag/etc behind the podium.
  • If you’ll be seated on a stage or dais:  You may want to consider pants so you don’t have to worry about how your skirt or dress looks while you’re seated. (This is where the mirror/chair test comes in handy…) If you do go with a skirt, know your audience — pantyhose may be appropriate. (Factors to consider here: the age of the most important people in the audience, the location of where you’re speaking. Speaking to judges in the South will require a different consideration than, say, speaking to college-age kids in the Pacific NW.) Other considerations, at least if you’re me: consider what will be eye level for people — since my ACL surgery I have an uglyish 1.5″ scar right under my knee that would definitely making me lean towards pants if there were any sort of stage/raised dais situation, if only because I’d be worrying that everyone in the audience was wondering where I got the scar and why I didn’t cover it. (I still wear bare legs with dresses for regular networking events, but I do tend to cover the scar with concealer.)
  • If you will be seated for the presentation but standing to network later, you may want to avoid fabrics like linen or cotton that wrinkle easily. I would also think that any jacket should be unbuttoned if you’re seated for the long term, if only for comfort and so the jacket/blazer lays better. I know some newscasters make sure to “sit on the blazer” so the shoulders don’t hike up when speaking.
  • If there will be an “onscreen” component to speaking, either because you’re being interviewed on air or because you’re doing something like, say, a CLE where it will be videotaped for posterity in the future, you may want to consider adding color into the mix, particularly near your face. I’ve noted at legal conferences in the past that women speaking seemed to have a “power red lip;” if you don’t want to take the risk of your lipstick fading during/after the event you can also just choose a colorful blouse, necklace, blazer, or scarf. (In our last discussion on what to wear for a television appearance, guest poster Sally McGraw noted that jewel tones work for almost everyone!)
  • If you’ll be at a blackboard/whiteboard during the presentation, you may want to make sure you know how your outfit and hair look from behind — make sure you’ve cut your vents on your blazer/skirt (if you’re wearing either and they have vents) and that you like how everything’s laying. If you’re worried about VPL, you may want to consider a thong or other no-VPL underwear.

What are your thoughts, readers — what are your best tips on what to wear for public speaking? For those of you who do public speaking a lot, do you have a uniform or other “power outfit” that you rely on for comfort/conveying professionalism?

Image credit: Shutterstock / NOBUHIRO ASADA.what to wear for public speaking - image of young professional woman giving a presentation Pin image credit via Stencil.

Whether you're teaching, presenting at a conference, or being interviewed on TV, it can be tricky for women to know what to wear for public speaking -- so we rounded up our best tips. Don't miss the comments, too; lots of great thoughts on microphone-friendly attire.


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