What to Wear for Public Speaking

what to wear for public speakingI’ve got a short little speech to give for an alumni mentoring thing in a few weeks, so my attention has turned to the important stuff: what to wear. (I’m being sarcastic here — obviously the content of your speech is the most important part!) But, considering that this is a fashion blog for overachieving chicks, I thought it might make an interesting conversation, particularly for those of you who do this more regularly — what are your tips for what to wear for public speaking engagements, whether it’s giving a CLE, speaking at a class, being interviewed on TV, giving a presentation to the board, or being in front of a jury? What should you consider for different kinds of speaking engagements? What clothes and outfits strike the best balance between comfort/professionalism for a public speaker? 

Some considerations I’ve thought of for what to wear for public speaking engagements:

  • If you’ll be standing behind a podium the whole time… Comfortable shoes for the win! Also note that pockets matter less because you can put your iPhone/bag/etc behind the podium.
  • If you’ll be seated on a stage or dais:  You may want to consider pants so you don’t have to worry about how your skirt or dress looks while you’re seated. (This is where the mirror/chair test comes in handy…) If you do go with a skirt, know your audience — pantyhose may be appropriate. (Factors to consider here: the age of the most important people in the audience, the location of where you’re speaking. Speaking to judges in the South will require a different consideration than, say, speaking to college-age kids in the Pacific NW.) Other considerations, at least if you’re me: consider what will be eye level for people — since my ACL surgery I have an uglyish 1.5″ scar right under my knee that would definitely making me lean towards pants if there were any sort of stage/raised dais situation, if only because I’d be worrying that everyone in the audience was wondering where I got the scar and why I didn’t cover it. (I still wear bare legs with dresses for regular networking events, but I do tend to cover the scar with concealer.)
  • If you will be seated for the presentation but standing to network later, you may want to avoid fabrics like linen or cotton that wrinkle easily. I would also think that any jacket should be unbuttoned if you’re seated for the long term, if only for comfort and so the jacket/blazer lays better. I know some newscasters make sure to “sit on the blazer” so the shoulders don’t hike up when speaking.
  • If there will be an “onscreen” component to speaking, either because you’re being interviewed on air or because you’re doing something like, say, a CLE where it will be videotaped for posterity in the future, you may want to consider adding color into the mix, particularly near your face. I’ve noted at legal conferences in the past that women speaking seemed to have a “power red lip;” if you don’t want to take the risk of your lipstick fading during/after the event you can also just choose a colorful blouse, necklace, blazer, or scarf. (In our last discussion on what to wear for a television appearance, guest poster Sally McGraw noted that jewel tones work for almost everyone!)
  • If you’ll be at a blackboard/whiteboard during the presentation, you may want to make sure you know how your outfit and hair look from behind — make sure you’ve cut your vents on your blazer/skirt (if you’re wearing either and they have vents) and that you like how everything’s laying. If you’re worried about VPL, you may want to consider a thong or other no-VPL underwear.

What are your thoughts, readers — what are your best tips on what to wear for public speaking? For those of you who do public speaking a lot, do you have a uniform or other “power outfit” that you rely on for comfort/conveying professionalism?

Image credit: Shutterstock / NOBUHIRO ASADA.what to wear for public speaking - image of young professional woman giving a presentation Pin image credit via Stencil.

Whether you're teaching, presenting at a conference, or being interviewed on TV, it can be tricky for women to know what to wear for public speaking -- so we rounded up our best tips. Don't miss the comments, too; lots of great thoughts on microphone-friendly attire.



  1. Anonymous :

    I like wearing a jacket so if I need to wear a microphone it can easily clip on to my lapel or pocket flap.

  2. Anonymous :

    No real advice but I am a big royal fan, and after watching the Duchess of Cambridge fiddle with her hair through every speech, my advice is to wear your hair up.

    • Anonymous :


      I have to do this. Tried wearing in down when I was first in practice and caught myself twirling my hair while examining a witness!

  3. Some form of belt to clip the microphone transceiver to.

    • Was going to say, if you’re going to be mic’ed, don’t wear a sheath dress with no pockets.

  4. Anonymous :

    Large jewelry should be avoided if it will make any noise while you move. Jewelry sounds are easily picked up by the microphone and can be a real distraction. I’d also second the above suggestions to wear clothing that will work with a lavalier microphone clip. It can be tough to find a place on a sheath dress to clip a mic.

  5. Anonymous :

    If there’s a video component, it’s often best to avoid patterns.

  6. Anonymous :

    I usually wear pants suits to court but for speaking, I wear dresses. Feels more streamlined and more approachable.

    • AGREED. i PERFER DRESSES b/c I am nervous, and would much rather have men stareing at my body then looking directly at me at eye level. So I wear short dresses so that the focus is on my legs and body, and not on me when I am nervous. FOOEy!

  7. I did a live tv show for a season where I was an expert and co host. I was pleased to discover that Stila All Day Liquid Lipstick did not move from my mouth through 2 hours of talking. I wore a rainbow of colors over the year and they were all marvelous! Also if you are on tv, avoid wearing small patterns, white and black. Do not wear tight clothes as they will look tighter on TV. If there is going to be a green screen, don’t wear green but sometimes a different color screen is used, so ask before you appear what the producer has a no color list. Finally, remember that if you are going to wear an ear piece and/or microphone, that each has a battery pack that has to clip to your body and have a wire attached to it. A waistband is easiest. And that if you will need help getting your wires in your clothes to be prepared for the sound guy to have to help you do it. I liked to wear a camisole under blouses and over my bra. That also helps when the lights make your top accidentally see through!

  8. All of the above are good tips. I’d include: practice speaking and moving in front of a mirror in the outfit you want to wear. Does it gap or pull at all, and do you feel comfortable presenting in it? I tend to move around a bit when presenting, and therefore need garments that aren’t too tight and move well – i.e. button-downs are out for me when presenting. I tend to wear black or navy with a pop of bold color when speaking with students (ex. black blouse with green wool skirt; or navy trousers and a salmon cashmere sweater), and try to stick to classic looks with a statement piece when speaking at conferences for recognition in the crowd after speaking (ex. pair a simple Theory black wool dress with my favorite teal heels). Have fun, and good luck!

  9. Try and find out the colour of the background! I wore a black jacket recently in front of a black background and almost disappeared ;-)

  10. Good article,I like wearing a jacket so if I need to wear a microphone it can easily clip on to my lapel or pocket flap.thank you sharing

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