How to Dress for a Presentation: Everything You Need to Know
Updated: May 11
You're standing in front of a room full of people. All eyes are on you.
Presenting to a group of people can be challenging even for seasoned presenters, but get it right and they can open up a world of opportunities. Yet your content isn't the only thing that needs to be valuable and on point when you are on stage speaking.
Your visual presentation, including your personal style and clothing, also needs to be spot on. Why?
First and foremost it's for confidence.
For most people, being in front of a room full of people can be incredibly nerve wracking. Wearing a well-considered outfit that makes you look and feel professional helps to boost your confidence and give you a sense of presence.
The audience will immediately see and sense this, and that helps give you credibility.
People will start to judge you as soon as you walk onto a stage or are standing in front of a group of people. They will be wondering if you are worth their attention and forming their first impression of you. This gives you a golden window of opportunity to influence the audience's assumption of you, establish your authority and give them confidence in what's to come.
So, what should you wear on stage when speaking?
First things first, you need to think about the type and style of event.
How many people are you presenting to?
Is it a day or night time event?
Where is the event being held?
Will there be other presenters?
Who are you presenting to?
Knowing the above information first is key to helping you select the right outfit that will support your personal brand image.
Major conferences will often provide dress guidelines for presenters and tend to prefer clean, tailored designs, although this can depend on industry (i.e the technology industry is well known for being very casual; the arts industry is much more creative and fashion forward).
If you are speaking at a major conference and aren't provided any guidelines, don't be afraid to ask what is preferred and/or expected.
Have a look at past conference photos to get a feel for the event, and the audience. If these aren't available, ask the event organiser for the information and then aim to dress at least one level up from your audience to position yourself with authority.
Below are some example outfits that are professional and contemporary, and work well for speaking engagements for female professionals and leaders.
Notice that items are clean with classic/contemporary lines and with pops of colour. This ensures that you stand out, without being too distracting for your audience.
What should you wear if your event is virtual?
A business smart casual look is usually best for virtual events. This maintains a sense of professionalism while not feeling too overdressed for an online forum.
If you're a female professional or leader, smart blouses and shirts work well. If you'd like to add another layer of authority, you can opt for a blazer.
You also need to consider the background of your Zoom call or video conference. You want to make sure your outfit doesn't blend in too much with your background.
If you'd like more tips around dressing for virtual events, head to my post What To Wear When Presenting Online.
What colour should you wear for a presentation?
I always recommend to wear colour when speaking on stage. This is a time when you want to stand out and the easiest way to do this is through the use of colour.
The only exception to this would be if black (or another neutral colour) is one of your BEST colours and there is some design element to the outfit which adds a point of interest and prevents it from looking flat.
But keep in mind that colour is always far more interesting than a neutral outfit and it makes you far more memorable.
Choose a colour that really flatters you – a professional colour analysis is invaluable to helping you understand the exact tones and shades that make you look your best.
Different colours will transmit different messages, so decide what you want your outfit to say and how you want to be perceived:
Red stimulates the physical senses and can be worn to feel confident and to attract attention. A red dress will say ‘I am here’. Red projects authority and can be worn to show you are in control.
Blue is the most universally liked colour, so it is a safe colour and is ideal in serious, formal settings. It indicates confidence, reliability, trust and tranquility.
Pink is a good colour to relax tense relations and generate sympathy as it's calm and feminine.The colour of hope, it inspires positive outcomes and is non threatening. It's perfect for an elegant tea time. Too much bright pink can create a childish image but it can be combined with darker shades for more sophistication and strength.
Orange relates to social communication. It is physically and mentally stimulating and gets people thinking and talking. Wear orange to feel positive and uplifted. However its not recommended to wear too much orange in formal or elegant settings as orange can also transmit superficiality.
Yellow can awaken greater confidence, enthusiasm and optimism. It can uplift our spirit, and those around us, quickly. Be cautious in very sunny places when the colour can appear electric in bright light.
Purple is a sophisticated colour, associated with diplomacy, luxury and royalty. It usually communicates the finest possible quality, however the wrong tone of purple can appear cheap and nasty, faster than any other colour. It indicates creativity and spirituality.
Green is an emotionally positive colour, synonymous with tranquility and strongly connected with nature. It will help sustain a good mood within yourself and your surroundings.
Choose solid colours or a simple pattern or print but avoid really fussy or large prints, which will only distract your audience from the message that you are trying to get across.
What styles of clothing are best?
Your clothing should fit well and be contemporary, without being too fashion forward. Clean lines and tailored pieces of clothing will help to position you as professional and credible.
Great options include:
A pencil or tailored A-line skirt and blouse
A shift dress with a blazer
A wrap dress
A pant suit
Pants and a blouse
Along with your clothing, be sure to consider your grooming. You hair, skin, nails and makeup should also look smart and professional and complete your look.
Your best outfit for public speaking is something that you feel comfortable and confident in. Always prepare your outfit prior and road test it. By that I mean walk around it and make sure you can move freely and comfortably. I also recommend taking a quick video of yourself. Testing your outfit first means that you'll avoid any fashion faux pas's on stage - such as perspiring in non-breathable or heavy fabrics, wearing fabrics that crinkle easily or are too sheer or too tight. All of these will be magnified ten fold when you have a spotlight on you
If you'd like to talk with me about your current style situation and how I might be able to help, book in a call with me here.