Dress Like Your Audience is Dressed
Different speaking situations call for different clothing styles, but you are usually pretty safe if you are clean, tidy, and dressed as your audience is dressed. Why?
1. Ethos (your credibility) is one of three pillars of persuasion.
2. To develop ethos, you emphasize your similarity to your audience.
3. One practical way to achieve this is by dressing similarly to them.
So, how do you know how your audience will dress? Do your audience analysis! If the venue is a recurring conference or setting, go with what people wore last time. If you are presenting at a venue which is new to you, ask the event organizer what the usual dress code is. If there is a strong dress code, adhere to it!
This doesn’t mean you have to wear the identical suit or dress that everyone in your audience wears. There’s obviously quite a bit of latitude here. The point is that you don’t want to be significantly over-dressed or significantly under-dressed.
But I’ve heard that I should dress better than my audience?
“The key is that you look professional and respectful. Once you start talking, they shouldn’t be noticing what you are wearing anyway.”
Conventional wisdom says that you should dress one notch higher than your audience is dressed. Why a notch higher?
• To stand out?
• To earn respect?
• To hint at your success and affluence?
I don’t think any of those are particularly strong reasons for dressing above the level of your audience. Instead, I think the motivation for the “dress one notch higher” advice is that it buys you a little insurance in case your audience analysis was flawed.
• If you dress one notch higher than your predicted audience dress code, and the audience is dressed fancier than you predicted, then you are still safe.
• Of course, if your estimate is wrong the other way, you can show up significantly over-dressed.
I wouldn’t worry too much either way. The key is that you look professional and respectful. Once you start talking, they shouldn’t be noticing what you are wearing anyway.