Why “Be Comfortable” Is Not the Best Clothing Advice for Public Speakers

What’s the first word that comes to mind when I ask how do you want to feel during your next big talk, workshop or webinar?

Happy? Accomplished? Elated? Fulfilled? Proud? Excited?

Nervous?

Wait, WHAT?

Why on earth would you want to feel nervous?

You wouldn’t. Ideally, you will manage through any nervousness, fear or uncertainty that comes up long before you take the stage.

AND . . .

If your idea worth spreading is close to your heart, if you care deeply that the audience receives something from you they can act on, and if you want your idea to spread far beyond you and the stage on that day, you’re going to be feeling some form of nervous. Feeling nervous on such an auspicious occasion means you’re being genuine.

What about comfortable?

Isn’t that what all the public speaking articles say – to wear something comfortable?

Here’s a thought: As you get on that live or virtual stage to perform (whether in front of 5 people or millions), the last thing you should look for in your outfit is comfort.

Why Comfortable Doesn’t Cut It

You can choose courage or you can choose comfort, but you cannot choose both. Brene Brown

Do you “really” want to be comfortable when you speak or lead a workshop? Or do you want to be fully seen and fully heard, both of which require courage?

The outfit you choose to wear on an in person or virtual stage should SUPPORT you, not comfort you.

To choose an outfit that supports you, you’ll need more than 7-10 standard style tips.

Choosing what to wear is a two-fold thought process.

  • Decide what non-verbal message you want to send. Nonverbal messaging shows up in your clothes, accessories, hairstyle and (for women) makeup. It’s everything the audience sees and  perceives before you open your mouth.
  • Once you’re clear on what the nonverbal message is, you then decide how your personal style will reflect that message (if you feel you don’t have a personal style, you actually do).

Since you are kindling ideas that you want to spread, and giving a talk or leading a workshop are powerful platforms to do that, it’s important that the nonverbal message is congruent with who you are so it shines through  as you speak – with no distractions.

Here are some practical things to consider as you begin to marry who you are as a speaker with the nonverbal messaging you’ve decided on.

  1. Your personal style is a conduit that conveys who you are on the inside to the outside world. In a a speaking and facilitating context, it means wearing an outfit that portrays who you are as a speaker along with the nonverbal messaging you intentionally decide to convey. Personal style happens by design – never by default. It comes from knowing exactly who you are and dressing that person.
  1. Make sure your clothes fit. Try them on and rehearse in them before the big day. Get things hemmed, taken in, let out, altered.  There is nothing like clothes that fit because they say:  “I know what I am doing.” This applies equally to men and women.
  1. Wear a color that is not brown or black. I have seen so many speakers and facilitator wear all black. While a solid is a good choice, black is dark and foreboding. We wear it to funerals.  If black is a color you prefer because of your own natural coloring, then consider contrasting it with a brighter or lighter color. Also, if your talk is being filmed, avoid all white which will blow the camera lens out like no other color. And avoid stripes because those can sway in the camera creating the illusion that you are moving when you aren’t.
  1. Check on the event dress code and study pictures of past events if possible. This is particularly relevant if you’re speaking at a conference or giving a TEDx or TED style talk at an established event. If there is no dress code or if the code is unclear, email the organizer and ask as many questions as you can.

Ask People You Trust

Before your talk or workshop, wear your outfit for others to see.

Here are some questions you can ask to get useful feedback:

  • Do you see me first or the outfit?
  • Does anything about this outfit distract you?
  • What’s your first thought when you see me walk out wearing this (and pretend you don’t know what my talk is about)?

Make sure you are asking people who care more about supporting you than giving you their opinion.

Putting some carefully thought out time and energy into choosing your outfit will support you go give the audience and yourself every second of your idea worth spreading.

The soul of your fellow speakers and the audience are waiting for you to ignite the lamp of understanding and convert it to a blazing flame in the world.  Dress the real you and let’s hear what you have to say.

If you want to learn more about the ins and outs, dos and don’ts, where to start and how to put together an outfit that absolutely supports and advances:

  • Who YOU are as a speaker
  • Your message and
  • The vibe of the event that’s fortunate to have you speak on it’s stage

I highly recommend my Digital GuideDress for TEDx Speaking Success: Garner trust and connect powerfully with your audience before you ever say a word – and long after you’ve left the stage.

Written for TEDx speakers and ANYONE who knows that part of their work in the world is to be visible: speaking onstage, facilitating workshops, making a difference through webinars – anywhere you are up in front of people sharing your message – this Digital Guide will help you gain maximum benefit from one of your most important visibility resources: your clothing.

Kathleen Audet

Your Authentic Image