The content of a speech is more important than the image of the speaker. However, people hear what they see. If you’re a speaker, your audience won’t trust what you say unless your image supports your words.
In January 2011, an expert appeared on the news to give advice about how to have more sex in 2011. The topic was provocative and had the potential to generate lots of exposure for the expert and high ratings for the show. But the expert was unkempt and didn’t have any sex appeal. His image completely undermined his credibility on the topic. The audience didn’t believe him and changed the channel. The expert’s image got in the way – of the expert’s success, of the show’s success and of the viewers’ potential for getting more sex!
There are 4 elements for speakers to consider as they create their image for a live presentation, video blog, or tv appearance: message, environment, stance and equipment:
As a speaker, your topic and your look must support each other, if you want your audience to believe what you say. If your topic is interior design, you should look should be designed and coordinated like the rooms you create. If you speak about the interaction of Baby Boomers and Gen Y in the workplace, your image should reflect Boomers, Gen Y and business. If your topic is provocative, your outfit should be too (i.e. not revealing, but cutting edge or unexpected in someway).
You literally want to be “easy on the eye,” so it is easy for the audience to see and look at you. Consider the décor and lighting of the stage, so your outfit works in the environment. Your outfit should contrast with the décor so the audience can see you clearly. If you wear a beige outfit in a beige room or a dark outfit in a dark room, you’ll blend in with the background and appear to be a “floating head” without a body. If the room is busy with lots of patterns and colors, keep your outfit simple and monochromatic so it is easy to see you amongst the chaos. If the lighting is bright, make sure your buttons, pins or jewelry have a matte finish so they don’t reflect blinding lights into your audience’s eyes.
Consider the positions you will be in during your presentation and Q&A session. Clothes fit differently depending on your stance, pose and position. Make sure your outfit looks good when you are standing AND sitting and in any other position you will be in during your speech. Are fabrics around buttons, waist bands and seams pulling, straining and gaping? Will necklines or hems reveal too much skin in you lean forward or sit down? You want your audience thinking about what you are saying, not about the weird wrinkle in your jacket or the skin popping out of your neckline.
Amplification equipment can wreak havoc – turning a great outfit into a hot mess. After you create you outfit, ask these questions. Is there room for a lapel microphone, wires or battery pack? Do you have a place to attach the equipment (lapel, collar, waist band/belt, bra band, thigh holster)? Are fabrics sturdy enough to support their weight? Will jewelry or clothing details rub against the mic and muffle or interrupt your voice?
That red or navy suit that everyone tells you to wear to speak at a conference, business meeting, or TV appearance probably won’t work. When you create an outfit that is in alignment with who you are and what you say, you allow your audience to connect with you, trust you and ultimately to be transformed by your words.
p.s. If you’re going on TV, here are some other things you should know about image.