Guest Post: What to Wear For a Presentation or TV Appearance

what to wear for a presentation or TV appearance

2018 Update: We still stand by this advice for what to wear for a presentation or TV appearance — but you may also want to check out our most recent discussion on what to wear for public speaking

What should you wear when you’re the star of a corporate presentation, or making a TV appearance for something job-related? This can be a bit different than what to wear for a conference or for interview attire, to say the least, and while we’ve talked about HD makeup for video interviews, we’ve never answered this specific question. So I’ve brought back Sally McGraw, the blogger extraordinaire behind Already Pretty, who does regular TV appearances — she’s guest posted before for us on power dressing for yourself, as well as letting us excerpt her book, Already Pretty: Learning to Love Your Body by Learning to Dress it Well.  Welcome back, Sal! – Kat.

I’m a ham. Happy to admit it. I landed my first lead role in a play at the ripe old age of 10 and have been performing onstage ever since. I may have shifted from drama to music and now to television appearances and lectures, but it’s all performance-related and even after all these years I still get a little jittery every time I walk onstage.

So I know from personal experience how important it is to nail my look before the audience begins to applaud or the camera turns my way. I want to be totally focused on my message and avoid fidgeting and fussing with my outfit at all costs. And, of course, I want to look my best. Here are some guidelines to help you look your best before an audience:

What to Wear For a TV Appearance

Some TV spots will be filmed on location or outside, others in a studio, so it can be difficult to generalize … but allow me to generalize anyway.

Do a touch more makeup than usual, but just a touch: Lights and cameras can be harsh on many complexions, but we are also living in an HD world, friends, so no need to apply with a trowel. I recommend using something to even out your complexion – be it foundation, BB/CC cream, or tinted moisturizer – as well as undereye concealer and powder to lighten and brighten. If you wear these daily, apply as usual and don’t add extra layers or a bunch of bronzer – better to look a little washed-out than overly made-up. Blush will prevent you from looking ill, so do include it. Sweep on a tiny bit more than usual, but make sure it’s well blended and not too streaky or obvious. Shadow, eyeliner, and mascara will make your eyes pop, but sticking to neutrals and smoky colors is wise since bright eye makeup can be distracting. Definitely add lip color but avoid super-bright and super-dark shades like fiery reds and deep purples. Instead try pinks, berries, and dusty corals, or anything that is just a bit brighter or darker than your natural lip color.

Clean lines read best: Anything with lots of ruffles, embellishment, or volume will likely look a bit messy. Blazers are better than cardigans; ponte is better than fluid jersey. Structured garments with clean lines will make you appear professional and pulled-together. Do your best to be wrinkle-free, but understand that you’ll be moving around and some creases are totally natural.

Jewel tones are always a good idea: This palette works for virtually all skin tones from pale to dark brown and reads beautifully on camera. Jewel tones are rich without being bright and add color without being overbearing. And you can do multiple jewel tones in a single outfit! Find the shade that works best for your complexion and wear it next to your face, ideally in a solid. If you want to add a neutral to the mix, go for gray.

Avoid small, regular patterns: Although issues with moiré are more common in still photography, tiny, regularly patterned clothing can be a little dizzying onscreen, especially black and white. I generally prefer solids for television, but if you opt for a pattern, try for a medium-sized one and ideally one with blurred edges, a watercolor feel, or an abstract design. This creates a more natural overall look.

Black and white sparingly: Neither is particularly flattering for most complexions, and both can cause odd contrast issues with certain camera equipment. Black can work in a skirt or pant, but try for jewel tones and grays instead if you can.

Minimal accessories: Long, dangly earrings and clattering bangles can be very distracting, as can oversized scarves, wild hosiery, and piles of necklaces. Make one accessory your focal point and keep others to a minimum. Feel free to do a scarf or statement necklace, but pair with studs and a simple watch or bracelet. The fewer shiny objects and moving parts, the better.

What to Wear for a Presentation or Seminar

My guidelines are mostly the same for presenting to a live audience instead of speaking on-camera, but there are a few important differences to note:

Pattern in small doses: If you’re pacing back and forth on a large stage in front of dozens of people, an outfit that is mainly solids will be less distracting than one with gobs of prints. Patterned shoes or a scarf will work beautifully, as will a patterned blouse peeking out from a suit jacket. But now is not the time to show off your print-mixing prowess.

Bolder accessories can work: Don’t go overboard, but you can be a bit more adventurous than you would be on-camera, especially if your audience is both large and physically distanced from you. Statement necklaces are great and you can venture into cuff bracelets and larger earrings if you’re so inclined. Careful, though, that you don’t overdo the sparkly: If your accessories glint in the stage lights as you move, that can be irritating.

Be comfortable: You’re gonna be the main attraction for quite a while, so don’t wear a stiff, confining blazer or a dress that makes you self-conscious about your butt. Pick clothes and accessories that feel good. Anything that pulls, pinches, or subdivides won’t be flattering or comfortable, and anything fussy will just distract you.

What to Wear For a Small Group Presentation

With a smaller audience, more tweaks can be made, including:
Regular makeup: For TV and large groups, kick it up. If it’s just you and six colleagues in a conference room, regular makeup is fine.

Wear your favorite colors and patterns: Guidelines are much looser with small groups, so feel free to be a bit more creative. However, bear in mind that structure and clean lines will always help you look authoritative and that wearing a color that works with your complexion is always wise.

Do your nails: With a smaller audience, your hands will be visible as you gesture. Don’t feel like you need to get a professional manicure, but make sure your nails are neat and tidy – either freshly polished or polish-free, as well as clean and trimmed.

Test your outfit noise level: Necklaces, bracelets, and earrings can all jingle. Some shoes squeak. Walk around the room once and make sure you aren’t making any distracting noises with your wearables.

What to Wear For Any Professional Appearance

Dressing for TV Appearances | CorporetteAssemble and try on your outfit the night before: Dressing for a media appearance or presentation takes some serious planning and forethought, so don’t leave it till the morning of. Pull the pieces together and try them on, down to shoes and accessories. Photograph the outfit if you’re not sure and get a second opinion. That way, once you’re onstage or on-screen you can focus 100% on your performance and forget all about what you’re wearing.

Wear comfortable shoes: Doesn’t matter if you think you’ll be standing stock still the entire time. Foot discomfort can be incredibly distracting, so pick a pair you know will keep your toes happy.

My weekly TV spots require me to wear something related to the topic at hand, so I can’t always follow my own guidelines. For instance, in the screenshot at the top of this post I’m in mint green because we were talking pastels. But you’ll notice I did simple but interesting accessories, clean lines, nothing jingly, and gray as my neutral. My makeup is simple but flattering, I opted for solids instead of patterns, and stuck with structured but comfortable clothing.

Presentations and media appearances are great for your resume and can be incredibly fun and exhilarating, but figuring out what to wear can feel stressful. Hopefully these guidelines will be helpful as you plan for future TV spots and seminars.

I’d love to hear additional tips from you presentation pros! What would you add? How do you dress for television, large group, and small group appearances?

Sally McGraw is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer, blogger, stylist, and teacher. In addition to writing her popular daily blog, Already Pretty, she contributes regular features to the Minneapolis Star Tribune and The Huffington Post. She is the creator and co-host of “Trendy or Timeless,” a weekly fashion segment on the Fox 9 Morning Show. Sally teaches quarterly community education classes, conducts workshops and seminars, has spoken at BlogHer and IFB, and has guest lectured at the University of Minnesota and St. Catherine University. In 2012, she released her first book, Already Pretty: Learning to Love Your Body by Learning to Dress it Well. She firmly believes that style is a tool for self-love that should be accessible to everyone. Including you.




  1. Here’s a very important tip: do not wear any green or blue if there will be any greenscreen or bluescreen composition effects (such as a virtual set) applied to the video.

    If you wear green in front of a greenscreen, you’ll literally blend into the background.

    • Likewise if you’re giving a talk in a dark auditorium, don’t wear a solid black top. Your torso will blend into the darkness and your head will appear to be floating.

  2. S in Chicago :

    Remove everything from your pockets. I’m more often on the end of taking photos rather than video, but it’s shocking how often this simple tip is overlooked.

  3. I would LOVE to be on TV. I think I would like to get some exposure for my legal carreer, and if I was able to get on to TV, I could advertise the firm. The manageing partner said he is thinking of making a TV ad and if he doe’s, he want’s me to be the lead speaker. YAY!!!

  4. Moonstone :

    Thanks for this post. Very practical. I am bookmarking it.

  5. For big audiences or on-camera appearances, be prepared to wear a wireless microphone. This affects your outfit in several ways:
    (1) choose a neckline or lapel that you can clip the mike onto. You don’t want to wear something so light that the weight of the mike causes a wardrobe malfunction (or just messing up the lines of your outfit).
    (2) choose clothes with a belt or waistband that you can clip the battery/transmitter pack onto. Again, consider the weight. You don’t want it pulling your skirt/pants down. Or, wear something with a pocket you can tuck the pack into (again, without the weight causing problems).
    (3) choose necklaces, brooches, scarves, etc. that won’t snag on the mike.
    (4) don’t wear any accessories that jingle or clatter, because the noise will be picked up and amplified.

    • You beat me to it! :) And I’d add “ask in advance what the a/v situation will be, because lavalier vs podium mic may affect your wardrobe choices”.

  6. If you’re making a TV appearance with male colleagues, remind them that they may be asked to have make-up applied! Watching my uni friend who plays American Football (big, northern, very muscular) being powdered before we went on University Challenge (A bit like College Bowl, I think – inter-university televised quiz show) was a funny experience…

  7. I don’t think that Sally McGraw is an expert on any appropriate attire. I’ve seen her outfits online, and they’re dated and unprofessional. She certainly isn’t Stacy London, who always looks classy and sophisticated. I think that Sally needs a few lessons on “What Not To Wear” on TV.

  8. Has this blogger actually watched her own segments? I think media coaching would help her a great deal. She bobs her head, twitches her shoulders and has a number of nervous mannerisms. Her outfits are sometimes quite odd.

    • I adamantly agree, and that was part of my point. I’ve also watched her TV segments, and she comes across as unconfident and slightly strange. In addition to her “odd outfits,” she doesn’t appear as a credible stylist. I’m an East Coast attorney, and I’d never follow any of her advice. If I did, I’d lose potential clients and perhaps, even my position.

      • I’ve seen her segments before, and I think the female anchor who she does the segments with is almost always dressed much better. I’d rather see her version of this article!

        • That’s an excellent idea. I’ve noticed that the anchor tries not to wince, whenever Sally makes a stupid statement. I recently wrote to the station, and suggested that they hire another local stylist. I’d even volunteer my grandmother. Although she’s in her eighties, her sense of style is much more sophisticated than Sally’s.

  9. I have no idea how Sally is an expert in fashion/clothing/dress but most of her outfits have issues with either fit or proportion and this makes me question any advice she gives out.

    • Exactly, Chrissy. Apparently, she’s only a self-purported “expert.” Frankly, I think that most of her readers are women who are clueless about personal appearance. They don’t even know the difference between couture clothing and mass-marketed merchandise for retail. So they’ll believe anyone who projects authority. Sally McGraw is like the style version of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” There are those of us with discernment, however, who aren’t afraid to state: “She’s wearing odd outfits.”

  10. layered bob :

    Ohh I know this post is a few days old, but – Kat, please do not let Sally guest post here any more. Her areas of expertise really do not match with what your readers are looking for, and she is especially unqualified to speak on this topic. I’m glad Sally is clear on her own style, but it’s a specific taste that doesn’t translate well for most of us.

  11. I agree, layered bob. Sally’s posts aren’t helpful at all, nor does she have any real “expertise.” I actually believe her advice has an adverse effect. With due respect to Kat, I don’t understand why Sally is invited to write here. She has a very unprofessional presentation, and her outfits are outlandish. Her wardrobe is also dowdy and dated. If I showed up in court wearing one of her wacky ensembles, I’d lose my client’s confidence and likely, their case.