Part 1 - Delivery
The first reaction the audience will have to you will be a response to your appearance: clothing, hairstyle, jewelry, beard. All personal grooming tells something about you.
Each of us owns a wardrobe comprised of what we consider to be acceptable and attractive attire. Clothing ranges from casual to formal, but the parts of that range you feel most comfortable in depends completely upon you. Your own taste is the first consideration in deciding what to wear to a speaking engagement. You should never feel self-conscious about your attire. This will quickly erode your confidence.
Speakers should avoid the common temptation to overdress. Your fanciest and most expensive outfit may create a communication barrier between you and your audience. Expensive-looking clothing, for instance, calls attention to the differences between you and a non-affluent audience. In the same manner, a three-piece suit can be out of place in a casual or blue-collar gathering.
Loud or flashy clothes may command more attention than the speaker wearing them. Tight-fitting, provocative clothing may also create tough competition with your message.
Your choice of attire is highly personal and subject to constant changes of style. No one can better judge what clothing you are comfortable and confident in than you can. However, critical self-evaluation and a friend’s help may broaden your perspective a bit.1
Most speakers can ill afford to acquire a totally new wardrobe of designer apparel. And such a buying spree is unnecessary. In most cases, a keen eye for color and pattern coordination will do wonders. Proper lengths of sleeves, shirts, pants, and ties also help eliminate unwanted distractions.
As a rule, it’s a good idea to plan your speaking wardrobe a day or so before the speaking engagement. In fact, a complete “dress rehearsal” may alert you to an unsightly spot or missing button you might otherwise overlook. You may also discover that the five pounds you’ve gained makes the outfit you prefer too uncomfortable for speaking. Be especially careful about tight-fitting collars. A little time spent planning at this stage has saved many a speaker embarrassing moments and physical discomfort during presentations.
Proper attire for effective public speaking need not be expensive. Simple, conservative taste is usually appropriate. A speaker’s clothing should not compete with the message for the audience’s attention. You should be the main attraction – not your clothing.
Wear clothing your audience can relate to. I always lean toward the informal. For example, I prefer two-piece suits and sport coats instead of three-piece suits. Many business spokesperson are concerned about projecting a “fat cat” image or appearing too “slick.” An informal environment and informal clothing help create an atmosphere where neither you nor the audience need put on airs.
Spokespersons respected for their intellectual or their speaking abilities and not their wardrobe will endure even if their wardrobes are totally nondescript. Keep it neat, simple, and plain. Don’t compete with yourself.
Hairstyles appear even more personal than clothing. Although there are no “proper” styles for public speaking, here are a few general guidelines.
Wear a style that you are personally comfortable with to bolster your confidence. Experimenting with new styles especially for speaking engagements may cause you to be unexpectedly self-conscious. Whatever extra time and energy you have prior to a speech might better be devoted to refining your thoughts and rehearsing your script than to shopping or trying out new hairstyles.
A spokesperson’s hair should not attract attention. Your hair should be kept out of your face, and should not require constant manipulating during your speech. Keep your hair out of your eyes especially, and keep it unspectacular.
Most speakers claim to feel and look better with their hair at a length normally experienced between haircuts. A haircut immediately preceding a speaking engagement can cause you undue self-consciousness. I trim my hair a few days before a speaking engagement, never immediately before.
Cuff links, tie bars, earrings, lapel pins, bracelets, and necklaces all pose possible audience distractions. Jewelry glitters and shines enough under average podium lighting to warrant seriously considering not wearing it. Rings, watches, or bracelets have rarely helped persuade or inform an audience. Gaudy jewelry is particularly distracting; simple, tasteful jewelry is more acceptable.
Although the grooming suggestions provided in this chapter certainly apply to television appearances, there are additional factors to keep in mind.
Colors such as red, green, and white are poor television choices; they rarely look good to the home viewer, and they usually cause technical problems for the studio staff. Blue, gray, and beige are good.
Bold patterns should be avoided, as should fine detail such as thin pinstriping. The television taping equipment can only pick up and transmit a certain amount of detail. A pattern with a lot of fine detail will have a glaring, shimmering effect when seen on the viewer’s screen.
Be sure to check your wardrobe for its look while you are sitting down. Check especially the length of your hemlines. Likewise, short socks and slacks that reveal pale calves can be avoided by a simple sitting-down check.
Most people don’t have access to videotape equipment to test their wardrobes. What you can do is contact the studio prior to your show and seek guidance on what to wear and what to avoid. Most TV stations are delighted to help out – it makes their job easier. It’s also a good bet to throw an extra tie or shirt in the car just in case a change is required.
Once you have been scheduled to appear on a television show, it’s a good idea to watch that show (along with a few others) to see what type of clothing is being worn. This will help you decide which ones look best and, hopefully, lead you to a sound decision on what you should wear.
High fashion and public speaking are not mutually supportive. Don’t jeopardize your credibility for the sake of looking “in.” Analyze your audience, the occasion, and the impact you expect from your attire and personal grooming for each and every speaking situation. Get your physical appearance to work for you, not against you.
A good general precept is: be respected and remembered for the ideas and thoughts you develop in your speech – not for your physical grooming.