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Start with Things You Can Control—Dress Simply

My advice to speakers and presenters is to dress simply. This does not mean you should dress in a casual or sloppy manner. It means you should dress in business attire or appropriate attire for the occasion (casual for resort setting, formal for ceremony, and so on). You can be elegant and fashionable but do not overdress. Flashy attire or an extraordinary appearance creates an image of someone trying to impress or going overboard, which can lead to a less than favorable initial impression. The best rule is dress similarly to the majority of your audience.

For men, a necktie is critical. A man can wear an off-the-rack inexpensive suit and make it work with a crisp clean white or light blue shirt and a tie. Wearing a tie with absolute confidence will translate at the first moment’s glance, respect will be established. The tie is the first thing people notice, and if it is sharp, expensive looking, stylish, and tied correctly, a man will make a strong first impression. People seeing a man wearing a great tie make the assumption he must be a professional regardless of his age. Something many men don’t realize is the properly selected and worn tie can serve to help correct some physical characteristics. A very tall man might want to wear ties with horizontal patterns, whereas a more stout man might want to wear ties that have vertical patterns. Narrow ties help accentuate a man’s stature. A man’s vertical dimensions are equally important.

Taller men receive benefits from a slightly longer tie that accentuates a positive height. Shorter men can generate the appearance of additional height by having a slightly blunted tie style. In the end, a man should seek to have precise personal clothing measurements. However, undetected adjustments can be made and these can provide subtle aids that enhance a man’s confidence.

Don’t forget your shoes. Since your speech or presentation will be done from a standing position it is wise to wear comfortable shoes. While you may be inclined to buy an appropriate new outfit for your speech or presentation, I would advise wearing footwear that you have broken in.

It is always a good idea to get information about your audience in advance, and part of this information is how they will be dressed. As a speaker you should match your audience’s attire as well as language.

Women can often have a more difficult time than men when it comes to determining how to follow the “dress simple” advice for public speaking. Without getting into the reasons or the fairness, society just imposes far more rules and restraints on women’s attire than men’s. Rather than using the speaking engagement to make a political or social statement, women speakers have to recognize that they have a more difficult task in their clothing choices. In most cases, pant suits; slacks and blouses; dresses and skirts; and dressier tops are appropriate. The same clothing that would be worn to a business office or business event is appropriate. And, the same rule applies—don’t over or under dress for your audience.

I would advise keeping jewelry and accessories to a minimum. You will be in front of people and you want their attention on you and what you are saying, not on flashy watches, necklaces, scarves, pins, or chains. Another thing you should remember is to remove your attendee or speaker’s badge before you stand up to speak. It is just another distraction you don’t need.

One last word on cultural attire: If you are speaking to a group that is closely tied to their native culture, your topic is about this culture, and you are genetically part of this culture, it is appropriate to wear attire from this culture for your speech or presentation. Otherwise, avoid dressing, speaking, or acting as if you are a part of the culture, making a faux attempt to pretend you are something you are not. It is phony, unprofessional, and potentially offensive to your audience.

The special significance of language as a great idea lies in the fact that it is related to all other great ideas, insofar as ideas and thoughts are expressed to other persons, for the most part, in words, in speech, and in language.

Today, we seem to view language as an enemy, a barrier to communication, and a tyranny of words. There is even a debate about whether communication and speech are the same thing.

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