What to wear for your next speech

There’s more to choosing an outfit for a speech than simply knowing what’s in style. Who will be in the audience? Where will you be speaking? Use this article as your guide.

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One question that always comes up when I work with a client on a speech is, “What should I wear?”

I only have average male fashion sense, which means I’m somewhere between hopeless and OK on a good day. But I have seen a lot of speakers, and I’ve learned a few rules. Follow them and you won’t go wrong.

Yes, these rules do contradict each other, but you have to figure out what works for you. Fashion is complicated.

1. Dress as well, or slightly better, than the audience.

If you show up at a Silicon Valley startup dressed like a banker—suit, tie, etc.—the audience will write you off as a hopeless case. The chance that you will connect with that audience becomes very small.

You want to dress as well as the audience or slightly better, but the emphasis is on “slightly.” You don’t want a big mismatch.

If you dress worse than the audience, you’ll simply look like you shouldn’t be there.

2. Dress consistently with your brand.

This one is tricky, because there are times when, say, an entrepreneur wants to wear a suit and tie—like when he meets with a banker. To the extent that you can, you should dress to mirror or embody your brand.

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