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How to dress for a speaking gig

Is your attire appropriate for your audience?
Photo:, Design: Carma Spence

Long Beach speakers … being Californians … have a unique dilemma when it comes to dressing for speaking gigs. The dress code here is a bit more lax, in certain situations, than it is in other parts of the country.

For example, in Mary Kay, based in Dallas, Texas, it is believed that a woman cannot look professional unless she’s wearing a dress. Wearing a nice pantsuit or matching trousers and blazer is frowned upon. Although wearing a dress, as a woman, might be just what's needed in some situations, it is not an inviolate golden rule.

Professional attire is more often than not dependent upon the situation. Who is your audience? How do they expect someone of authority in their field to dress?

A good rule of thumb is to be slightly better dressed than your audience.

A traditional navy suit is quite appropriate for a conservative corporate audience. But if you dressed that way for a more casual audience, for example a group of artists or sports enthusiasts, you might end up coming off as snobbish.

For example, if President Obama gave an important address in casual golf attire, would you think that appropriate? Of course not … that wouldn’t be presidential.

What if you went to a cooking demonstration and the presenter wore a three-piece suit? Wouldn’t that make you wonder about the speaker?

When choosing your attire for a speaking gig, you need to keep in mind four things:

1. Your topic: Is your attire appropriate to what you will be talking about?

2. Your audience: Is your attire appropriate to your audience, being a notch or so “above” what they wear without alienating them.

3. The venue: Will you be comfortable while on stage? If you will be standing outside on a dirt floor, high heels are probably a bad idea. Also, don’t wear clothes that make you feel self-conscious or uncomfortable. If its too tight or too loose, you’ll fidget and it will only make you appear nervous.

4. Yourself: Is what you are wearing consistent with your brand? For example, Steve Jobs always wears the black turtleneck and a pair of jeans. What will be your signature look?

Would you like more information about public speaking? Visit for tips, advice and plenty of videos about all the "powers" you can employ in your speaking endeavors.

NOTE: Are you a Long Beach based speaker? Do you know of an upcoming speaking event? Contact me to have an interview with you published in this column.

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