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Submitted by jwtraylor on


Loved the Career Tools podcasts on presentation attire. I've been coaching someone who's relatively new to presentations and the timing of these casts was perfect.

Several questions that arise from the podcasts and don't seem to have been addressed in the forums. (At least, not that I found. Please feel free to point to a thread and delete if these are repeats.)

1. Convention / Seminar: The podcasts dealt with a presentation that was happening within one's own company, or with a client. What about attire when presenting to a convention or seminar, composed of a wide range of professionals of about the same level as me, but with whom I do not share any kind of employer/employee relationship (in either direction)? In this example I'm self-employed, as are most of the attendees, so attire conventions of my office do not apply. My sense is that I should take an average of similar professionals I've met in this area, and go up one notch from there. Sound right? Or should I just take the highest level of dress from the same sampling and use that as my "office norm"? It's tough, too, because these are mental health professionals, who can sometimes can see excessive fancypantsing as a sign that one is too money-focused, and not focused enough on Doing Good Work. But I still want to look good and wow 'em.

2. Makeup for women: If the intended effect of much of the attire (i.e. black column with two wavy white arms) is to draw and keep the attention of the audience, shouldn't a woman wear a little *more* makeup if she is presenting in a large auditorium with some amount of stage lighting? I get the smaller earrings, I get the fewer bracelets; jangly distractors aren't good. But without looking like a clown, shouldn't a woman emulate an actor onstage with bright lights in a dim auditorium and use a little more makeup than usual to make her features pop? Or is that just too stagey or showy? (I'm guessing Jobs wears makeup... Jobs being the ne plus ultra of presenters for my addled brain.)

MsSunshine's picture

A couple of comments:

  1. If there is an "official" type of dress for that conference, make sure you match it.  I'm a former programmer and used to go to a big Sun conference - JavaOne.  The CEO of Sun, ... all presenters who didn't want to feel totally over dressed.... wore jeans.  In fact, they even ribbed the occasional guest who didn't know not to wear a suit and took off their ties!  You don't want to look like you haven't researched your audience.
  2. I haven't done anything that big, but I just dress in what I'm comfortable in but like similar professionals.  I don't try to take it up a notch but I won't dress down either.  I figure that I want to feel and act comfortable in what I'm wearing.  But then again, my industry doesn't tend to respect people who dress up too much.
  3. Don't know about the makeup since I haven't done anything that big.  If you are doing something big, I'd ask the people putting it on what they do.  I know someone who presented at JavaOne - 25,000 people - and they had makeup people.
Mark's picture
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1. I think the Sun conference mentioned by sunshine is an anomaly.  Go with a suit to start, or do some research, and then dress a step up from whatever you find.  It's not so much about being "like" your audience as it is drssing in a way that will help your audience get your message.  If you're dressed like them, you better be VERY good, otherwise they'll think you're just like them and shouldn't be up there talking (that's why they're not up there).  This goes back to the rule that if you're very very good, you can wear anything you like...but you're not very very good.  (Sorry).  Wear slacks a dress shirt.  Some ribbing from friends is GOOD - they notice you've taken the time and gone to the effort of stepping up.  And career wise, don't look like a schmoe to some VP who is in the audience and likes your talk but assumes you're a nobody based on your fauxz pas of not dressing up a bit.  Ladies, slacks and a nice blouse minimum.

2.  Steve Jobs is NOT the ne plus ultra of presenters for most of us.  He's an icon.  We're not.  For women and makeup, I have spent time noticing, and there is some evidence that it might help, but also plenty of evidence that many women cannot "up" their makeup easily without some risk.  So don't.  You're going to be so far from the audience that it won't matter.  Conversely, please DO NOT use stage makeup.  you're NOT on that kind of stage.  Theater stage lights are unlikely.  DO NOT OVER DO IT.  You're not an actor, don't make yourself up like one.

It's a privilege to serve,


xcelerator's picture
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Not exactly presentation related, but I this VP's career with Best Buy is limited. Some things you should just keep to yourself. Whether you have a presentation or you're flying somewhere, dress the part. Here's an excerpt:

Here’s a news report that caught our eye last week: An executive with a major national retail chain was reportedly denied an upgrade to first class on United Airlines because the gate agent thought he wasn’t dressed properly. The executive, a vice president with Best Buy, told Washington D.C.’s Fox 5 News that he was booked on a United flight from Washington Dulles to Connecticut, and planned to upgrade to First using miles. He was wearing a track suit, and when he got to the gate, the agent told him his attire was too casual for the front cabin, so he had to make the trip in coach. The exec told the TV station he is a member of United’s Red Carpet Club, and said he was “humiliated and embarrassed” by the agent agent’s refusal to upgrade him.