Speaker: You Are What You Wear!

by drjim on October 13, 2009

The Clothes That A Speaker Wears Are A Powerful Speaking Tool   (c) - 2008

The Clothes That A Speaker Wears Are A Powerful Speaking Tool (c) – 2008

The purpose of giving any speech is to be able to reach out and connect with your audience. No matter whether you are trying to inform them, entertain them, or convince them to take some action, none of this can be done unless you are able to make a connection with them. What you say is an important part of doing this, but did you know that what you wear also plays a role?

What Your Clothes Say About You

I’m hoping that most of us already know enough to “dress up” when we go to give a speech. If you pick up any popular book on public speaking, you’ll find advice like “be the best dressed person in the room” and such.

What’s interesting is that it’s probably too much of a simplification to think of our clothes as being just that – clothes. Instead, Karen Hudson who retired from the movie business says that we should think about what we are wearing as being costumes that are “scenery on the move“.

Now I can already see some of you starting to roll your eyes – I mean really, costumes? Give me just a minute to explain. Your time with your audience is limited – 15, 30, 60 minutes, right? You need to grab their attention, hold it, and make a difference in their lives.

What tools do you have to do this with? Sure your words are important. Probably how you say the words (pitch, tone, etc.) also play a role. However, what else do you have? Not much! If you can start to think about what you are wearing as being yet another speaking tool, then all of a sudden you’ve got another “lever to pull” to get your audience to connect with you.

Different Speeches Require Different Types Of Clothes

Not all speeches are the same. In fact, you need to be aware of what type of speech you will be giving and then you need to dress appropriately in order to lend even more power to your speech.

Speaking To Inform

When you are speaking to inform your audience you will be presenting either lots of information or technical concepts in order to make your point. When doing this type of speaking, first impressions are quickly made by your audience when they are trying to determine if they are going to make the effort to listen to what you have to say.

For this type of speech your goal is going to be to establish your credibility in the field in which you are going to be talking about at first glance. You have two things that you want to quickly accomplish: you want your audience to understand that you are an expert in this field, and you want them to accept your credibility for speaking to them. What all this means is that your clothes have to convey a sense of strength, power, and leadership to your audience.

Speaking To Inspire

Things change when the purpose of your speech is to inspire your audience to take some action. What you are trying to do is to relate a story to your audience in a way that will provide them with a new point-of-view that will cause them to make a change.

For this type of speech, you are not trying to overpower your audience with your credibility. Instead, what you really want to do is to be able to inspire your audience. This means that you want your audience to reach out to you – to accept your ideas as theirs and to then grow because of these ideas.

This means that you want to come across as being three things all at once: credible, authoritative, and accessible. From a clothing point-of-view, this means that you are going to want to be less formal than you would be for a speech in which you were speaking to inform. Your clothing should present your audience with a softer, more conversational image of you.

Speaking To Entertain

Arguably you have the widest range of clothing choices when you are giving a speech that is designed to entertain your audience. Ultimately you are going to be telling your audience a story and you hope that by doing this you’ll be able to grab their attention and hold on to it throughout your entire presentation. In the end your goal is to allow them to fully enjoy what you have to tell them.

Your clothing can be a key part of how you go about doing this. Depending on the story that you are going to be sharing with your audience, your clothing can set the stage before you even open your mouth. You can go all out and dress up in a full costume, or you can simply add a particular accessory to what you would normally wear (e.g. an Abraham Lincoln top hat) in order to make your audience eager to hear your story from the moment they first lay eyes on you.

Final Thoughts

Hudson points out that when she was taking a screenwriting class, she learned that each character mist contribute to the outcome of the story. You can say the same thing about the clothes that you wear to give a speech: each item must contribute directly to the telling of the story and its final outcome.

This leads to the three key guidelines that control what we wear when we are speaking:

  1. The clothes should never take the focus off of you, the speaker.
  2. No matter what you wear, you will need to be able to perform comfortable and effectively in the costume and accessories.
  3. Time is of the essence – your costume should not tell more story that you have time to present.

Take the time to pick the clothes that you wear to match the speech that you will be giving and you’ll be able to intimately connect with your audience and make an lasting impact in their lives.

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Man, as though giving a speech wasn’t hard enough already, then you go ahead and throw that gender thing in there and all of a sudden it gets that much tougher! It can be a challenge when you are asked to talk to an audience made up of members of the opposite gender. How can you not screw-up this speech?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Training Connection January 14, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Neat read! I will pass this on to my students!

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Melanie Gordon Sheets March 17, 2010 at 9:28 pm

I visited this website via a link on a LinkedIn discussion group. Glad I did. This blog includes some useful tips to tweak any type of presentation. Thanks for your effort to produce this and to offer it to others. Keep up the good work!

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