When your clothes speak louder than you do

There he was:  the CEO of a major company, projecting pure confidence on the stage before us as he worked to convince us all of the merits of his big community idea. I sat as an audience member – trying so hard to pay attention to his words. But I just couldn’t.


…because while his words and confident body language told one story, this dude's shoes – dirty, dull and falling apart – told another.

Maybe I was suffering from short-attention-span-syndrome that afternoon, but it is true that audiences do pay very close attention to what you’re wearing whenever you make a speech.

As humans, our brains always seek to organize and categorize information in a way that makes sense and maintains the order of our belief systems. So, when we hear that a power-playing CEO of a major company is going to be talking, and his remarks are on point, we categorize that as trustworthy, powerful and relevant. But, if – when we look at that same CEO’s shoes – we see a disheveled, dusty mess, we experience a big break with the thought we had just moments ago. “This guy, we might think, isn’t all that put together. Maybe he’s not so trustworthy after all.”

Before you ever speak a word to your audience, they are judging you on your appearance. They see you walk out onto that stage, or stand up and speak…and they are instantly assessing your wardrobe to see if you are worthy of your time. I don’t suggest that you should totally change how you dress to simply appease others. I am suggesting that you be intentional with how you choose to present yourself in your manner of dress.

Here are a few tips that I regularly share with clients:

Choose bright colors – especially on a dark stage; Aim for jewel-colored tones or flattering pastels that compliment your skin tone. Avoid blacks if you can; black blends in too well with stage backgrounds.

Avoid anything new – the day of your big speech is NOT the day to try out your new heels, dress or suit. Wear something that feels super comfortable and that makes you feel confident.

Ladies – choose makeup that flatters and accentuates your eyes and lips. You want everyone in that room to see your facial expressions!

Guys – don’t forget the details! A handsome or unique tie can make all the difference for an otherwise blasé suit. Add a coordinating pocket square and some fashionable (or at least polished) shoes, and you will easily command any stage.

Above all, be yourself. If you’re not a fan of bright colors, or you prefer to wear your dusty, worn shoes…go for it. BUT – use it to your advantage. Call it out and make it intentional, as in: “Yes, I am CEO of Company X…but what does that say about me? Well, look at my shoes, and you’ll see fashion isn’t my thing…company growth is!”

Now, that’s how you roll up into a speech and command the floor, no matter what you’re wearing.