To Wear or Not to Wear: Dressing for Presentations

You have your big presentation or training coming up. You’ve been hammering out the fine details on the information you will be delivering. You know your material. You feel confident. You got this! But wait, you forgot one important detail, what are you going to wear?

What you wear when giving a presentation is a critical piece of the overall success of your presentation. Of course the information, delivery, and your knowledge on the topic are the main focuses, but if you show up in last night’s makeup, or that old suit you have in the back of your closet, your presentation will suffer. Just think about the last presentation or performance you went to, or even think about the last time you met someone new. Everyone hates to admit it and we were taught to never do this, but it is the honest truth, we judge people on their appearance. You at least make up an initial assumption of what kind of person they are and what they can offer.

I’m here to help ensure that when people see you walk onto a stage, or in front of a board meeting, you are dressed for the part and you can own that room.


Gender Neutral Tips

Dress to Impress: Wear something flattering. Wear something that makes you feel like a million bucks. You hear me say it time and time again, but when you feel good about yourself, it shows! So, if you have the biggest presentation of your lifetime coming up and you don’t have that special outfit that makes you feel like you could walk a runway, maybe splurge a little and head to your favorite clothing store. However, most of us have that outfit, suit or dress we save for the most special occasions, just make sure it is suitable for your presentation!

You want to make sure you dress better than your audience but also not in a way that makes you appear as though you think you are better than them. In some cases it is simply appropriate to dress similar to your audience. For example, if you are in a board meeting giving a presentation and everyone is already in a suit and tie and skirt suits or dresses, obviously you won’t show up in a tux or gown to dress better. But make sure you look like you belong there. Don’t show up in jeans and a jacket thinking that’ll do it. You have information to deliver, you need to make sure your audience views you as a credible source.

Now, if you are over 30 and going to a high school or college campus giving a presentation, you don’t necessarily need to dress to the nines, but also don’t try to dress like your audience, you’ll simply look foolish. But it would be acceptable to wear nice jeans and a nice collared shirt or blouse.

Keeping all of this in mind, it is also important to remember to dress to your brand. If you work for a laid back marketing company and you are having an internal meeting, dress to that standard. However, if you are giving a presentation to a client, it would be wise to dress it up just a tad.


Be Comfortable: If you aren’t comfortable, it is going to show. Ladies, if you don’t normally wear 5 inch black pumps, presentation day is not the day to try it out. Guys, make sure that your shirt fits! Don’t wear a shirt with a collar that’s too tight, or one that you can’t move around in. In most presentations it is ideal for the presenter to be mobile, walking around, making gestures and sometimes pointing to different things. So keep this in mind when deciding on that outfit. Those cute shoes that you just haven’t mastered walking in yet, or that shirt that you get so many compliments on but you can’t really straighten out your arms completely in are not ideal for a presentation. If you are walking like a baby giraffe or you look like you are trying to escape from a straight jacket, you are losing credibility from your audience.


Colors: Most people are aware that red is a power color, but that doesn’t mean this should be the only color in your closet. Wear colors that are flattering to you and work well with your brand. I wear a lot of blue because it brings out my eyes and looks great with my blonde hair, and I am fortunate that one of NAU’s colors is blue! Black is always a great go-to color if you are ever in a pinch.

Be conscious of what colors you are combining. Everyone has their own opinion on this one. Some people can’t stand the sight of black and brown coexisting in an outfit, while others find it to be a great fashion statement. This ties in with being comfortable: if you are not comfortable and confident in your color choice, nix it and find something else. You can also alter your color choice based on your audience. Be a bit more colorful with a younger crowd or for a more laid back presentation while solid, bold colors are more appropriate for a professional board meeting type of presentation.


Tips for the Ladies

It’s unfortunate, but women need to be mindful of a few things when dressing for a presentation (or ever really). Today, let’s focus on the proper way to dress for a presentation.

First and foremost, make sure you are covered up. There is no reason to wear a low cut blouse for any professional situation. If you seem to have an issue finding blouses that work for you, try layers! You can use tank tops, cardigans, cute seasonal scarves, the list goes on and on!

If you choose to wear a skirt or dress just be cognizant of the length. Right above the knee and lower is appropriate. Think back to your elementary school days and how you had to hold your hands to your side to determine the length of anything you wore to school. Do that and depending on your audience it might be a good idea to add a little extra to it. The only look aside from professional that you should be going for when giving a presentation is classy.

Makeup! If you don’t normally wear bright red lipstick, don’t try it for your presentation. Don’t overdo it on the eyeshadow or blush either. Again, remember a professional look is what you are going for, bright pink cheeks or rockin’ some 80’s blue eyeshadow isn’t really hitting that look. It might be your thing though, having fun with your makeup, but if your audience doesn’t know you that well it’s a better idea to go with more natural tones.


Tips for Men

Overall you just need to look like you put some thought into your attire and you look like you care. The main thing is to make sure your clothes fit! Don’t wear baggy clothes. If you need to get your suits tailored, do so. Also, make sure your shirt is tucked in (unless you are going for a different look of course, which I wouldn’t suggest). Iron your clothes so they are not wrinkled, and dry clean them if need be.


Footwear: don’t wear flip flops! Unless you are giving a presentation to some surfers on a beach there is never an appropriate time to wear flip flops for a presentation. The main thing is, don’t look sloppy. Make sure you look put together.


Facial hair: Just be sure you look groomed. You can have facial hair, just make sure you look like you care about it. Although with the most recent study about the hygiene of beards that was released, I don’t know if you want even want a beard at all!


These tips will help you feel confident and look the part. Of course there are always variations and do’s and don’ts for different situations. Just pay attention to what is appropriate. Be mindful of your brand and be sure to be consistent with that brand.


If you have any wardrobe tips for presentations or any questions, let us know in the comments below!

Audrey is a senior Instructional Designer with the Learning & Professional Development team at Northern Arizona University. She has a B.S. in Electronic Media and Film with an emphasis in Entertainment Management and an M.Ed. in Educational Technology from NAU. With her experience as a newsroom weather director and on-screen talent, as well as multiple years of experience teaching in a university classroom setting, Audrey brings a unique perspective to the LPD team.

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