Some people might give you the advice to wear what you’re most comfortable in when presenting a speech. For me, that would be a pair of sweatpants, a soft Chi Omega t-shirt from my college years, and a pair of worn, hole-y gray socks with my dad let me borrow in 10th grade. I can only imagine what that comfortable outfit would be for you… No matter what you define as “comfortable,” don’t listen to the advice that you should look comfy and cozy when you present. This is a presentation. This isn’t your couch.
So why is it important to dress up? And what in the world should you wear?
Well, first, you are not a famous celebrity. You’re not Martin Luther King, Jr. or Oprah. If your audience doesn’t come from all corners of the globe to worship at your feet while you present, please dress in a way that will impress them. Why? Because Aristotle tells us a persuasive speech is comprised of ethos, pathos, and logos. If you’re going to convince an audience to listen to you (much less do what you say), you must pay attention to your ethos: your character and credibility as a presenter. Part of that ethos is, as much as we hate to admit it, the way we look.
We must make a strong first impression on our audience within about 6 to 7 seconds. Since a few seconds isn’t enough time to prove you are credible by presenting unbiased information, how does your audience determine your ethos? They look at what you’re wearing. You must look like you’re reliable and like you know what you’re talking about.
Some might argue that dressing too professionally makes you look uncomfortable because you feel uncomfortable. I completely agree, and this is why I wouldn’t suggest one standard, universal professional outfit for all presenters. Instead, consider what works best for you in your specific presentation venue. Is this a pair of nice jeans and a blazer? Is it a full suit? Is it a dress? Whatever you wear, a great rule of thumb is that you should appear a little more dressed up than your audience.
Looking the part goes a long way in persuading your audience that you are worthy of listening to. Learn more by reading the “clothing” section in “First Impressions: Nonverbal Communication Tips.”