You’re introduced to the audience, and you’re walking on stage to applause. You stand before your listeners and smile in a confident and relaxed way. As you’re standing there and before you’ve said a single word, your listeners are taking in your appearance and forming a viewpoint as to whether you’re worthy of their attention. They are acting quite naturally; it’s human nature to judge.

So what do the clothes you wear or colour have to do with public speaking abilities? Simply put, everything!

You feel the message you’re communicating is the most important part of what you’re doing, and in theory, it is. However, in reality, your personal appearance is as significant as your message. Successful public speaking generally requires you to be looking, feeling and acting. Therefore, your intention should be to make a good first impression. You’ll be surprised how many people notice ill-fitting suits for both men and women.

So what should you wear when everyone’s looking at you?

If you want to create a good impression, your clothes, style and colour choice make a difference. So firstly, you will need to know your audience. This is a vital part of preparing to speak in public, and the more you know about your audience, the easier it is to create a message that meets and preferably exceeds their needs. You can then dress accordingly to enhance your speech and strengthen your message. Colours send subconscious messages. When we wear them, the subconscious immediately interprets them and labels them based on our view of the world. Therefore, it’s important to think about your message before deciding on what you what to wear. For example, are you aiming to persuade, inform, motivate, or entertain the audience? Perhaps you’re trying to express compassion, or you need to encourage your listeners to be more authoritative. The colour(s) we wear evoke emotion in those who see it, as do the clothes you wear. Therefore, both should ideally match the intended message of your speech. Since colour has considerable influence on our emotions, and consequently on our psychological reactions—controlling our physical responses—on both the onlooker and wearer; as a speaker, you should choose your colours with care. Secondly, you should ask yourself a single question, “I want to….?” when choosing what to wear. For example, say to yourself, “I want to appear friendly and approachable,” or “I want to be assertive.” Then select the appropriate colour or mix of colours that fit your needs. Be careful not to put too many colours together that might clash, as this could distract your listeners.

  • Establish trust and credibility – Blue is the safest colour to wear and is generally liked by most men and women though it suggests that you’re somewhat conservative; since it has a certain predictability.
  • Appear friendly and approachable – Lighter colours such as mid-tone blues and greens, blue-greens and teal, tan, and peachy-orange can appeal to the listener.
  • Be assertive – Red is the obvious choice for assertiveness. However, it’s important to note that some people might construe it as threatening, so use it conservatively.
  • Get noticed – Red, if taking to a large group, though it can be a little overpowering if you’re an already tired listener.
  • Appear self-assured – Blue-green is a good colour for women to wear; it suggests high self-confidence yet still welcoming.
  • Show reliability – Green is also a colour that is not always liked by others, even though it is the colour of emotional balance.
  • Appear neutral – Grey or beige. This can let your personality shine through though you may also seem to be a fence-sitter, as someone indecisive.
  • Appear professional, with authority – Dark blue or dark grey. These are seen as the most business-like colours, promoting credibility when promoting your business.
  • Inspire your audience – Magenta is an excellent colour for inspirational speeches. As a colour, it encourages change and transformation in the wearer and observer.

When presenting to a group at work, you may want to project more authority than you would with an individual consultation or meeting. To create this effect, darker colours help with what you want to get across. Even though lighter colours are more pleasant and less daunting, they do lack authority. Just a little tip about meetings, particularly when you have something to say and want to be noticed, wear red, however not if you are feeling short-tempered. Have fun playing with your wardrobe, but do remember to think about what you want to convey to your audience as you choose your colours.

Samantha Richards is a Public Speaking and Communications Consultant and founder of ‘Building Voices Communication’. She is an award-winning public speaker who is the top female public speaking coach in Australia (Yahoo Finance). She is currently studying for a Diploma in Counselling and is passionate about helping others communicate confidently.