After “What do I do with my hands?”, the question I am asked most frequently by male and female executives alike is “What should I wear?” when making a speech or being interviewed on television.
It is not necessary to be a fashion slave to ensure that your clothes do not detract from what you have to say. And, in an ideal world, clothing would have no impact on how an audience receives and accepts your message.
But we do not live in an ideal world. We have all been in an auditorium, meeting room or watching a newscast when the person giving a speech or making a statement is wearing something so inappropriate that their jacket or tie is all we see. However vital the message they might be delivering, it might well get lost because their bright plaid jacket looks as if the speaker killed a sofa to come up with the fabric.
The Audience Rules
So what should you wear? In part, it depends on the audience you are trying to reach.
If you are speaking to corporate heavyweights, a simple, tailored suit is best with softly padded shoulders — for men and women. A dark blue or rich grey looks best on most people, especially if being worn on TV. Men should wear a white or cream shirt with a tie that has a simple pattern in a contrasting color such as red. Woman ought to avoid patterned blouses or sweaters under their jacket; a white, red or green blouse works best, depending on your personal coloring.
On the other hand, if your audience is a group of Gen-Y or Gen-Xer’s, you need to rethink how you dress. A sweater or jacket and open necked shirt from J. Crew or The Gap works best here.
The important thing is not how expensive or fashion conscious the outfit might be but how well it works. An elaborate and “busy” $800 Pucci blouse is not nearly as good as a simple $250 jacket. A hot style for men this season is a tie in the same colour as the shirt. This might look great in your office or when out for dinner, but in front of a live or television audience it is deadly. The guiding rule should be simple, tasteful and add a touch of contrast.
Stand Up, Sit Down, Turn Around
Once you have chosen an outfit, you need to think about how it looks to the audience. For many women, this “mirror check” is something they do automatically; for some men, it may seem foreign and peculiar. Both sexes should do it just prior to an interview, making a presentation or giving a speech.
For men, look to make certain that your tie is straight and that your jacket is pulled down so that the shirt collar shows along your neck. For women, make sure the collar of your blouse lays flatly against your jacket and is not turned up in the back.
If you will be interviewed sitting down, or are on a panel discussion, here are a few tips. When you sit down, give a light tug on your jacket to make sure it is in place. Tuck the jacket bottom under your bottom and, literally, “sit on it.” This keeps the jacket from moving as you gesture or shift in your chair. Make sure that the top buttons of your jacket are buttoned and but leave bottom ones unbuttoned so that it doesn’t bunch up. If you are not wearing a jacket, but have on a tie, tuck the short end of the tie through the label so it stays in place.
Shine, Don’t’ Sparkle
All that glitters is not golden. Jewellery can be particularly distracting. Women need to make sure their earrings don’t take flight when they move their head and that their necklace will not interfere with the microphone whether they are being interviewed or speaking. If you turn around in front of a mirror and your jewellery catches your attention – take it off.
All of this may seem like unnecessary fussing. But a few minutes of fussing can enhance your credibility and the audience’s willingness to hear, understand and accept your message. Clothes may not make the man or woman — but the wrong look can unmake someone in a hurry.