What to wear for public speaking

“In speech, as in life, nothing is more difficult than determining what is appropriate.” I’m not sure Master Speaker Cicero had in mind which toga and sandal combo would be the most authoritative at his corporate conference when he said this. But his point is good. In our image-conscious visual age, what you wear for public speaking matters more than ever. And with the return of lectures, lectures, and festivals in both physical and hybrid form, the need to look good in real life and on screen, often simultaneously, means it’s more complicated than ever.

Victoria Hitchcock is a San Francisco Bay Area-based fashion stylist and personal imagery designer who advises the CEOs and founders of Fortune 500 technology. Recently, several people have asked her for advice on dressing again. for live events.

“A lot of people have so much information and experience in thought leadership, but they don’t know how to make the perfect presentation out of it so you don’t lose your audience from the first minute,” Hitchcock says. She has a checklist that informs outfits: what’s the location? What is the time of year? Will you be sitting or standing? Is the light warm, is it hitting you from above? Who moderates? Who are your peers? “

Microsoft executive chairman and CEO Satya Nadella takes on the business-casual look by pairing a plaid shirt with a casual blazer © Getty Images for Fast Company

Figuring out who the audience is can be a tricky affair, especially in the tech world. Hitchcock says, “Is this bitcoin, something financial? They are a little more formal. Is it biotechnology? It’s a much more dressed up environment. Do you have venture capital mixed with artificial intelligence, transportation, or operations, it’s usually in between.

She observed that while famous tech titans are synonymous with a scruffy, ultra-normcore look, she finds that “mid-level people, in management and decision-making, improve their game. messy jeans, the white sneaker, the T-shirt with a “pi equals anything” symbol. Before, the more nonconformist the better, and now it’s’ how can you help me express who I am? ”

For a business casual look on men, she recommends a polo shirt with an open blazer and jeans, or pants with a cropped jacket and button down shirt in blue and white or with a textured pattern. Travel writer and influencer Travis Levius, @misterlevius, has refined a business casual style and says that unless it’s a very formal event, he tends to keep it casual: “Up top , it will be a solid color sweater or shirt. by J.Crew, H&M or Club Monaco; at the bottom, dark jeans or tailored chinos from Levi’s or Uniqlo. I would wear the look with either boots from Clark’s or Thursday Boot Company, or black or brown oxford shoes.

House President Nancy Pelosi is known for her penchant for pantsuits and dresses in solid, vibrant colors that catch the eye but aren’t as distracting as the prints © Getty Images

For women, a sure bet for a formal event is always a pantsuit, says Hitchcock. “They’re really powerful, it translates to ‘I’m in control but I’m comfortable.’ The blouse is key and I usually recommend something with a little sparkle that will reflect the light well, rolling up your sleeves will also make you a lot more accessible.

In a less corporate environment such as the media, tailoring can be more daring, but opting for oversized suits can still make the wearer look like a child trying on their parents’ clothes: the new eco-responsible brand Another Tomorrow is a good one. a source of relaxed but smart tailoring. .

There are also technical factors to consider. Colin Heywood, general manager of Anderson & Sheppard on Savile Row, thinks that for a fairly formal environment, it is advisable to stay neutral. “Darker colors are good, dark gray or dark blue. You can have a pattern in the fabric, quite often when you are seen about 20 feet away, the pattern will not be that noticeable, but if it needs to be on screen, we would say avoid a houndstooth, or Prince of Wales or Glen plaid check because the camera has trouble with it. Choosing a lightweight fabric that doesn’t wrinkle or attract too much lint and lint is wise if you don’t want to look like a hot mess, literally. Heywood recommends tailored clothing designed for travel as a smart way to choose something that looks fresh, not wrinkled.

When opting for a formal outfit, speakers should choose darker colors, like Marco Bizzarri, CEO of Gucci (center) © Getty Images for Fast Company

New York-based tailor Leonard Logsdail made costumes for a TV show SuccessionSo he has some proper advice for billionaires on how to make a good impression: “If you’re on a band or panel, I would recommend something slightly stronger to make it stand out. When you look at politicians and they all have a solid suit, a solid shirt, and a solid tie, there’s nothing that really sets them apart. Don’t go too far. “

A recurring tip is not to wear what you’ve never worn before, or at least tried on extensively at home. If you are planning on renting an item of clothing, allow a few extra days to try it on and then study it under different lights to check for traps that might not be immediately obvious, such as if it snaps in the wrong places, is transparent, or speechless – the latter is often a fatal flaw in a seemingly elegant wrap dress. Helena Morrissey, financier and author of Style and substance; a guide for women who want to win at work, often chooses brightly colored dresses with pockets for hanging a microphone, and even sewed a small half-belt to a favorite dress for this purpose.

Classic, lightly structured dresses like the one worn by Michelle Obama at the 2016 Democratic National Convention are flattering and more reliable than wrap dresses © Getty Images

There’s a reason Michelle Obama opted for a lightly structured fit-and-flare gown in her famous “we’re going high speech” at the 2016 Democratic National Convention; they are universally flattering. A colleague from FT pulled off the safe but chic dress for a conference at the FT Weekend Festival in Emilia Wickstead’s Jody belted shirt dress (£ 1,450), while Massimo Dutti has a nice wine-colored shirt dress (£ 149) that is classic but with an interesting dolman sleeve.

Considering the seating arrangements on stage ahead of time is something Morrissey has learned to do over years of public speaking. “Sitting on a stool that’s too high doesn’t make you feel right at home, so I’ve learned to ask ahead of time if I can have another type of chair,” she says. “We’ve all heard a lot of technically flawless speech that doesn’t have a heart, so making an emotional connection with a smile, a warm hello, and an outfit that reflects your audience is a good place to start.”

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