July 18, 2013

Speakers: dress the part

I don't typically subscribe to generic rules about how to dress as a speaker. It all depends on the audience, the venue, the topic, your personal style, your message and the image you want to convey.

However, within these parameters, dressing appropriately for different audiences and events is not unimportant. How you dress expresses your personality and your style, but it also completes the package that you're offering as a speaker that includes your content, visuals, delivery and audience interaction.

I attended our local French Festival last weekend and, for about a half hour, hubby and I sat in the audience at one of the entertainment stages. On the schedule of events, we saw this description of one of the musical groups, Django Shmango: "A journey back into a Paris nightclub of the 30s."

What an evocative description! Intrigued, we took our seats and sat through a couple of other acts before Django Shmango took the stage.

I was immediately disappointed by their appearance. A group of musicans appeared in jeans, t-shirts and button-downs. No style and absolutely nothing reminiscent of "a Paris nightclub of the 30s."

Their music was a blend of American and Gypsy jazz, and their music held up its end of the bargain. But their image was blah and not fitting with the theme of 30s Parisian club jazz. They might as well have been in a recording studio or playing on the radio. There was nothing to look at.

The French Festival entertainment features many colorful performers, including a group that reenacts the court of Henri III, Can-Can dancers in traditional costumes, tango and Polynesian dancers, a Femmes Fatales drag show, and numerous chanteurs and chanteuses delivering traditional French songs. And most of these performers are in some sort of costume or attire that enhances the performance.

When the female vocalist of Django Shmango performed a solo number, I couldn't help thinking how much more interesting and fun the show would be if she had worn a gown. Or made *any* effort beyond jeans and a t-shirt.

As a speaker, pay attention to how your audience will be dressed and what your organizer prefers, but beyond that, show some style! Show some personality! Dress in a way that will enhance the message of your presentation.

For example, I once met Chellie Campbell at an event, and struck up a brief conversation while we were getting coffee and pastries. I didn't know she was one of the speakers, but I instantly resonated with her fabulous outfit, which was all green and sparkly gold. I later saw her onstage and discovered that her topic was financial stress reduction and the colors of her outfit represented MONEY! I don't know if she still does this, but at the time I thought it was brilliant.

At Ruth Sherman's recent event, she changed clothes halfway through the day to demonstrate how the way we dress can present different "vibes" to the audience, can influence the mood of the event, and can solidify our personal brand. Her first outfit was more formal, but bright, colorful and figure-flattering. Her second outfit was flowy, playful and funky, and she had also replaced her heels with flats. Both looks were equally "Ruth." Both looks were equally appropriate for the event. It was a great demonstration.

Consider going beyond the "conventional wisdom" suit and tie in a safe color scheme or "ladylike" pearl earrings. Let your outfit show the authentic you, express your brand, and also put a nice wrapping on the overall package you're presenting.

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