Whether you have made a career out of keynote speaking or you are stepping on stage for the first time in years, there are many factors that need to fall into place for a well-done presentation. Is the lighting just right? Will the attendees be able to hear you? Is your content going to put the audience to sleep, or will they be sitting on the edge of their seats? Fortunately, most of these issues are taken care of by show producers, ensuring that dozens of moving parts are running well in order to provide a perfect backdrop to your presentation. Producers can also help you decide what to wear — and more important, what not to wear — in order to take your presentation to the next level.

Dress for Success

It is often said that the clothes make the man or woman, and it’s true when it comes to presenting on stage. Before you begin to speak, the audience has already formed a preliminary opinion of you based on your wardrobe. What you wear says a lot about you, the conference or event, and the message you are trying to convey.

For example, at a conference for young professionals aspiring to advance their careers, dress for the role; skirts, dresses, suits and ties are appropriate for this setting. In a more casual situation, capris, button-ups and polo shirts, khakis and other “business casual” outfits are acceptable. However, always be mindful that you are in front of an audience and potentially on camera, so do your best to appear put-together and polished regardless of the dress code.

Don’t Come Apart at the Seams

Certain designs, such as busy prints, can be distracting to your audience – they’ll pay attention to your clothes instead of you. Pinstripes are another pattern to avoid, as they can create an unflattering optical illusion called a “moiré pattern” on camera. Solid black and white outfits should be avoided, as should big necklaces, which can interfere with the mic. Keep modesty in mind as you pick out a presentation outfit; while you don’t need to wear a floor-length dress or a shirt buttoned up to your chin, try to avoid short skirts or low-cut shirts that give your audience more of a show than they were expecting.

It’s also important to keep fabrics in mind when deciding what to wear. Synthetic fibers can create noise when you move that can be picked up by a lapel mic, and they also tend to show perspiration, so stick with natural fabrics like cotton and wool. Not only are they quieter, they “breathe” much better than synthetics like polyester, helping you keep cool on stage.

Knock Their Socks Off

A sleek suit or an attractive dress may make you look good, but to take your stage presence to the next level, ensure that you are comfortable in whatever you’ve got on. It’s obvious to an audience when a speaker is uncomfortable; painful shoes may keep them rooted to one spot on the stage or a tight pair of slacks may make them short of breath. Though wearing your pajamas on stage is (usually) not an option, there are plenty of fabrics and articles of clothing that will make you feel just as comfortable. When you are relaxed and not constrained by your outfit, it shows in your demeanor and your presentation will benefit from it.

Don’t Just Fly by the Seat of Your Pants

Once you decide what style will be appropriate for the presentation and you’re aware of what fabrics and patterns to avoid, don’t hesitate to get some outside guidance before you decide on an outfit. If you know that you’ll be on camera, touch base with the show producer to determine what colors will look best. Even if you aren’t being filmed, a producer may have extra tips to give you when it comes to your wardrobe.

If you will be wearing a microphone for your presentation, be sure to select an outfit that allows for easy placement of the lapel mic and battery pack. A shirt collar or neckline of a dress can provide a place for the lapel mic, though be sure to avoid dangly jewelry, scarves or other accessories that may cover it up or make noise that is picked up by the mic. Large accessories can also reflect light and create a flashy glare for your audience. Pants and jackets with pockets are ideal spots for a battery pack, but if you are planning on wearing a dress, be aware that it will need to be place discreetly either on the top back of the dress or underneath it on an undergarment.

Finally, when you have the perfect outfit selected, wear it around your house for a day so you are comfortable moving around in it and won’t encounter any unforeseen surprises on stage. The day of, rehearse with the lapel mic affixed prior to your presentation. The more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll be both physically and mentally, and the more likely you are to shine on stage!

Before Hitting the Runway...
To save yourself time and effort, review this checklist prior to determining your outfit.


  • Know the dress code for the event – is it a casual event at a beach resort, or a professional conference where attendees will be wearing suits?
  • Be aware of what you want your clothing to say about you – are you trying to show people that you are creative or serious, fun-loving or poised, casual or formal?
  • Select an outfit made of natural fibers like cotton or wool for breathability.
  • Select an outfit that is comfortable to wear and fits you well (wear it around the house for a day to be sure).
  • Practice your presentation. Does it include moving around the stage, gesturing or other physical actions? Rehearsing will give you an idea of what types of clothing will help or hinder your movement.


  • Wear busy prints, pinstripes, or solid black or white outfits that will distract from the presentation.
  • Wear noisy, synthetic materials that can be picked up by your mic.
  • Wear statement or dangling jewelry, scarves or other accessories that might interfere with a microphone or reflect light.
  • Assume that comfort is secondary. Feeling and looking comfortable on stage definitely matters.
  • Wear anything that might lead to an accidental “wardrobe malfunction.” Heels and short skirts should be avoided, while knee-length socks or stockings are very helpful – especially for suits on stage or when sitting.

This article originally appeared on metroConnections.