Stand Up and – Toast! Dressing the Part

We spend hours, even days, working on our content and gestures. But when it comes to choosing what to wear, we often spend more time deciding on a Halloween costume than our presentation attire.

During this week of Halloween, we’ll see witches, superheroes, cartoon characters, horns and halos – the costumes vary widely. Many of them show creativity and represent the person who chose them (or made them). 

I am not advocating dressing in a costume for a presentation, especially in a business situation – that could be seen as “performance art.” Still, it is worth spending a little time thinking about how you want to present yourself in a presentation setting.

Your Image

Halloween costumes allow you to show off your personality. Similarly, for a presentation, the first rule of thumb is to be comfortable. Otherwise, your clothing will feel like a “costume,” and you will likely end up tugging on your outfit, instead of focusing on your talk.

These days, the catch phrase is “personal branding.” Extending that concept to your appearance simply means to express your personality and what you represent. A very simple example: if you are an artist, wearing a three-piece-suit will come across as inauthentic. Alternatively, if you are pitching an investment deal to a financial audience, you don’t want to appear overly casual.


On my very first consulting project, I packed formal business suits for my week of travel. When I arrived at the project site, the customer greeted me with “didn’t anyone tell you that our dress code is business casual?” On my third day of the project, the customer again pulled me aside. I explained that I was not local and won’t be home again until the weekend, unlike my locally based consulting colleagues. And I had only packed suits and too-casual jeans. And that evening, I went to a nearby mall and purchased business casual clothes for the remaining two days of the trip.

The key is to know your audience and the situation. Research the event and the types of attendees that will hear you speak – is it a technical conference? Is it a formal awards ceremony? As a presenter, try to dress just one step above the general dress code.


Speakers are often recorded; most conference venues use a wireless microphone. If so, don’t wear heavy jewelry or conference lanyards that can bump against it. And make sure there is a place to attach the battery pack (pocket or waistband) and the actual receiver (a blazer or shirt collar).

If you know that you will be filmed, remember that white will often appear too bright, but off-white is generally fine. Dense patterns, such as herringbone or sharply contrasting knit colors, may result in moiré patterns, or small waves, on the screen.

Remember that while the audience is there primarily to hear your content, the appropriate clothing will help you relax – and promote your credibility.


See a past Halloween-themed show of District 4’s Toastmasters Bay to Bay cable access show:


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Claudia Cruz November 03, 2012 at 01:57 AM
This is very useful. I wouldn't wear the same outfit to speak to businesses as I would to college students. I wouldn't be overly casual with the college students, but a cool blazer or leather jacket and nice slacks work better than a business suit. Even as a reporter, before I show up to interview someone in person, I keep in mind my clothes. Thanks for the advice!
Birgit Starmanns November 04, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Thank you, Claudia! That's a great point, dressing for your audience is not just relevant for presentations, but for day to day interactions at work.
Atul Nayak November 05, 2012 at 11:30 PM
Would shoes be a whole new blog post Birgit? :)
Birgit Starmanns November 08, 2012 at 05:34 PM
Hi Atul, that's great - it could add a whole "fashion" spin - shoes, jackets, jewelry :)


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