What to wear when giving a presentation.

4 minute read

How you dress can be just as important as what you say. With your fashion on fleek, your audience will be free to focus on what really matters.

After days of rehearsing and revising, the big day is finally here. With scarcely a jitter of nerves, you bound on stage and gaze out across the packed conference room. This is your moment to shine, and shine you do as the audience remain rapt from the first slide to the last. It’s not until you emerge from behind the podium to take their rapturous applause that you glance down and realise to your horror that you aren’t wearing any trousers. Your face flushes and the room starts to spin before you come to with your cheek pressed against the warm side of the pillow.

Thank god, it was only a dream.

You glance at the clock beside the bed. 6:01. Still four hours until your presentation starts. That leaves plenty of time to get up, get dressed and – of course! – get dressed. In your quest to perfect your presentation, you haven’t given a moment’s thought to what you’re going to wear. That wasn’t a nightmare – it was a warning.

How to dress when giving a presentation

What not to wear to a presentation

In an ideal world, you would be judged on the merits of your presentation and your presentation alone. In the real world though, we’re programmed to take visual clues from our environment and to draw inferences from these. It’s an evolutionary trait that was once used to keep our ancestors alive.

Tiger stripes? It probably wants to eat you. Colourful markings? It probably wants to poison you. Today the stakes might be lower, but we’re still just as prone to making snap judgements.

Messy hair? She doesn’t give a damn about her appearance or her presentation.

Novelty tie? He clearly thinks he’s a banter merchant. This is gonna be painful.

Yeah, we’re a bitchy, judgemental bunch, but don’t hate – elevate. If your goal of wowing the room with your punchy slideshow and rousing speech is to be realised, you’ll need to dress right. Otherwise, your audience will spend more time staring at the creases in your shirt than they will looking at the projector.

Here at Buffalo 7, we’re better known for our PowerPoint knowledge than our sartorial splendour. We can confidently say, however, that when it comes to giving a presentation, the following style tips hold true:

  1. Dress to match the tone of your presentation

If your topic is Display Network Remarketing, it’s likely to be a dense and jargon-filled affair. If you haven’t found room for humour in your presentation, it’s probably an idea to follow suit in your style – leave the wacky socks and distracting accessories at home. If you’re discussing the history of Pixar with a classroom of school-leavers, however, you can afford to relax a little and dress more expressively.

  1. Dress to match the values of your brand

Like it or not, tech start-ups are given license to dress less formally than stockbrokers. Every time you speak to an outside audience, you’re conveying the values and brand identity of your employer. If your suit is reserved for weddings and funerals, you’ll look ill at ease ‘borrowing’ it for a crucial speech. Dress up by all means, but don’t stray too far from your comfort zone. Similarly, dressing down to suit the style of your hip audience is only a good idea if you can pull it off.

  1. Dress practically

If you’re delivering a keynote speech, you could be on your feet for 45 minutes or more. Those heels may look great in the mirror but when you’re wincing ten minutes into your speech, you’ll wish you’d gone with your trusty flats. Likewise with tight-fitting suit jackets, which won’t do you any favours when you’re repeatedly pointing at a screen. Oh, and if you’re prone to perspiring, you’ll want to choose a top that doesn’t betray sweat spots.

  1. Everything in moderation

This isn’t Victorian times, so we’re not gonna tell you what length your skirt should be or how long your facial hair should be. What we will say is this: don’t ambush your own presentation. It’s nice to live in an age where individualism is celebrated, but if your ornate tribal tattoos or generous cleavage are in danger of distracting from your message, you might want to rein them in so to speak. We’re not killjoys; we just know that if there’s a more colourful alternative to your slideshow on offer, your audience will find it. Speaking of colours…

  1. Go easy on the bright colours and distracting prints

This is a tricky one, because it’s not so much the brightness of the colours that constitutes a fashion fail but the combinations. We’re not advocating that you dress in muted shades of beige and black – when it’s done well, a dash of colour can liven up an outfit. Just try not to wear all of your favourite colours at once – save the clown suit for Halloween.

Don’t dress to distress

So now that we’ve covered the basics of what not to wear when giving a speech, how about some tips on what you should wear? Is a suit jacket with jeans cool or crass? Is a double-breasted suit too much? Are hoop earrings too showy? And what about hair – did we ever reach a consensus on the merits of the man bun?

Ha. We’re not touching those questions with a bargepole. If you want genuine style tips, go buy a copy of Cosmo or GQ. We’re happy to dispense some general do’s and don’ts, but when it comes to dressing for the big day, you’re the final arbiter of what works. Don’t let us cramp your style. Just remember that fashion is fleeting but class is permanent. Nail the sartorial side of things and your audience will remember your presentation for all the right reasons.


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