As summer begins (finally) to wind to a close, we all get a break from the heat. But if like me, you live somewhere where the summer sun still beats down, you may be inclined to think that the last thing you want to wear is a business suit. These days, everyone seems to be relaxing their dress codes. But does that apply to public speakers? Can you get away from old-fashioned ideas of professional attire and start to shake things up a bit?
In a word? No.
It seems like a good time to take on the whole subject of what to wear when you’re giving a speech. Believe me, I have given many speeches and attended many more. I have seen a wide variety of approaches, but I can also tell you with some real authority what will work and what won’t. And the rules aren’t hard — really, they’re just common sense.
As I have said before, the rule of thumb is that you should always dress a notch better than you think your audience will be dressed. You can always dress it down once you get there if you feel uncomfortable. For example, you can always take off your suit jacket, or tie; and you can always roll up your sleeves. If you are addressing a tech convention, you may be able to get away with a level of casual that would never work in most venues. But the rule of thumb still applies — you will need to be a solid level more professional-looking that the audience. More professional, not less. That bears repeating, when speakers occasionally fall into the trap of thinking they come off looking more authoritative if they project a relaxed “Don’t care” vibe. Don’t bet on it.
Want some specifics? Check back on Monday. I may even see if I can find some do-this, don’t-do-that examples to make the point. For now, let’s enjoy another summer day!