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You can influence the way people think about you by choosing the right clothing. This episode provides practical tips for what to wear and what not to wear while speaking on stage.

Topic and tips:

  • How to dress so you look good and are consistent with your brand;
  • What to wear and what not to wear for men;
  • What to wear and what not to wear for women, and what hairstyles to avoid.

00:02 Welcome to Steal the Show with Michael Port; this is Michael, and this episode is about what to wear or what not to wear. The way you look when you show up in public, job interview, first date, giving a speech, leading a team meeting, whatever, it says a lot about you. People make snap judgments about others. We wish they didn’t; we do it too even though we don’t want others to do it to us, but it is the way the world is. And you, of course, wanna look your best. Now, this is not always about dressing up, this is not always about looking fancy or wearing expensive clothing, but if you’ve been listening to this podcast or you’ve read Steal the Show, you know that we are developing our character as we become a better performer.

00:58 So we’re developing our character as we become a better performer. And character, in this case, means two things. It means, number one, the way the world sees you. How they see you as a player in the game of life. And then, number two, who you are as a person. What kind of character do you actually have? What are the values that you live by? Because performance, good performance, is not about… It’s not about fake behavior, it’s about authentic behavior in manufactured situations. You may have heard me say that on another podcast and I do like to say that a lot because it’s a reminder that when you choose what you wear, you’re choosing a costume; you’re choosing a wardrobe for the character that is you. And ideally, you wanna wear things that make you feel good about yourself. You don’t wanna dress the way that you think you’re supposed to dress necessarily, but you also need to dress in a way that is appropriate for any situation that you’re in.

02:06 So, to be perfectly honest, right now I’m actually wearing sweatpants and a sweatshirt. I don’t know why I needed to be perfectly honest. I’m always perfectly honest. [chuckle] But I don’t know, maybe you have this idea because you see my pictures out in public that I am always dressed sharply and clean shaven, and that is not the case. Because I work from home. I do this podcast from home, I’ve got a studio here in the house, and I write. But I do leave the house and when I go out to speak, there’s a certain… I make certain choices with respect to what I wear. And, for example, when I am teaching performance and public speaking, I generally wear black. Why? Because when I’m teaching public speaking and performance it’s not about me; it’s about the people that I put on stage and it’s about people in the audience, it’s about people in the room and how they can be the performers. I want them to stand out in that space.

03:04 So I choose black because that actually helps me blend in with the environment. I become the every man so I’m not trying to take the spotlight in that particular environment. Now, that doesn’t mean I always will wear black, but that is the direction that I generally go. Now, if I’m going to give the speech on, say, Book Yourself Solid, I may wear darker colors but I’ll often wear a blazer, blue. Once in a while I’ll wear a nice pair of jeans and belt and shoes and dress shirt so it has a relatively casual look ’cause I’m generally speaking to entrepreneurs, start up founders, and small business owners who feel more comfortable dressing that way themselves. But I’m careful about the watch that I wear; that’s gonna say something about you. If I wear a watch that’s a $10,000 watch, it makes a statement; maybe I don’t wanna make that statement.

04:00 Now, if I wear a watch that’s almost falling off my wrist because it’s too big then I look awkward when I’m speaking. So I wanna talk to you about clothing. I wanna get a sense of what you wear so I want you to think about that as we’re working together. And then, I wanna talk to you about the different things that you should wear and the different things that maybe you shouldn’t wear because I think it will help you make some better choices.

04:31 Now, let’s talk about some people first, and people that you may know of, and let’s talk about what they wear and how it represents their brand identity. So let’s take Chris Rock, for example, the comedic actor, the stand up comedian and the actor. His stand up performances are very edgy, they’re incisive, and he speaks truth in variations of a black pullover or he wears black slacks, black comfortable shoes. Then at times he will add some kind of leather to that. So that gives him this edge that works for the kind of performance that he is known for.

05:16 But he doesn’t always dress like that. Generally, you’ll see that kind of outfit when he’s doing stand up. You’ll rarely see him wear a tie when he’s on the stage doing stand up. He may once in awhile maybe. I’ve never seen him do it, but for the most part, he chooses clothing that makes him look a little bit edgy. Now, let’s take… Let’s take Chris Brogan, for example. He’s a friend of mine; he’s got a podcast himself. He’s the author of ‘The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth.’ He’s a real, what I would consider a gentle, hipster, digital, media sage, that’s how I think about Chris. And he’s comfortable showing his New England nerd. Yeah. And that’s… I remember when Chris and I were at an event speaking, and he was being interviewed by the host of the event and the event said, “What does it feel like to be famous?” and he said, “You mean for geeks?”

06:06 I just thought that was just the most adorable thing, and that’s part of his brand identity so he’ll wear basic jeans or chinos. He’ll wear a t-shirt and a comfortable suit jacket, nothing. You know he’s not wearing Armani or Hugo Boss. You know he’s really very quite down to earth. And then let’s take John Jantsch. Another good friend of mine, author of ‘Duct Tape Marketing.’ So he’s a real business development genius. I really think he is, and he’s a very practical guy. He’s a salt of the earth kind of guy; he’s a mid-western guy and he really looks it. He wears converse high tops, he’ll wear a blue blazer with jeans, but you’ll rarely catch him in a suit and tie, but he always looks clean cut and very classy. He’s gonna… We tease each other a lot, and he’s never gonna let me down that I gave him all these props. He’s gonna take these to the bank for sure.

07:09 And then let’s take Dorie Clark. Dorie Clark is another great friend. She’s the author of a couple of different books. ‘Stand Out’ being one of them. She writes with the Harvard Business Review, she writes for Forbes and is one of the most likeable people I know. She was once a press secretary for a presidential candidate and she always looks intellectual. She wears usually khaki pants, blazers, very preppy button down shirts, and her hair is kept cropped short and it’s a very specific look, and she chooses it. I know because she thinks about her brand identity and how she’s known in the world.

07:47 So let’s take another one. Scott Stratton. Scott Stratton is another great friend. He’s grungy, he’s a reverend, he’s got a long beard and completely out of control long hair. He often wears it in a man-bun and then he’s got tattoo covered arms, and this is a brand choice. Now he’s not doing this because he’s doing it just for his brand identity, but this is how he likes to be known, and it represents his brand identity because his brand identity just like Chris and John and Dorie and Chris Rock and Chris Brogan. Those brand identities are based on the way they see themselves and the way they see the world and the way they want the world to see them.

08:31 So when he goes and speaks of the biggest business conferences in the world, with audiences dressed to the 9s in their business attire, he’ll wear a black t-shirt and well worn jeans. That’s pretty much his outfit, and it’s actually something that he needs to address every once in a while with meeting planners, he’s told me. But he explains to them that this is his brand, this is his thing. And that’s the reason they want to choose him because he shows a different world view to them. So I want you to think about your look. Is it consistent? Do people know what they’re going to get when they see you? This is something that you can influence. You can influence the way people think about you by choosing the right clothing, and then, of course, those clothing are clothes that you wear consistently. Do you see? It’s not like a once in a while thing, and every time, you look completely different when you show up. Now maybe that’s your brand, but to a really extreme degree. I don’t know. But let me give you some do’s and don’ts, okay?

09:43 So always be consistent with your brand as I said. Shoes. Make sure when you’re speaking, on a stage especially, that you wear shoes that grip and they don’t make too much noise, okay? That’s very, very important. You want to make sure that you make too much noise because when you’re walking around on stage if you hear click, click, click then people may get distracted. Let me do some more for men first, then we’ll do women.

10:15 Guys, don’t wear pants that are too tight or hiked up too high. I mean unless you’re like Mick Jagger or Adam Levine or something then you can pull that off, but for most of us, we don’t want to hike our pants really high up because then they’ll reveal too much and don’t also wear tight pants and put a little stick of chapstick in your front pocket. It will give off the wrong impression.

10:39 And then if you’re gonna wear a blazer, if that’s part of your wardrobe, make sure you wear one that gives you good range of movement. If it’s too tight in the shoulders, you won’t be able to lift your arms so anything you wear, you need to make sure that you’re rehearsing in whether it’s a job interview, same thing with first date. If it’s the first time that you’ve put on an outfit, you may not feel comfortable in it and find yourself adjusting. This is an issue that I think women have more with the kind of clothing they wear and I’ll get to that in a minute.

11:08 When you’re speaking, don’t keep buttoning and unbuttoning your blazer. It gets distracting for the people that are watching. It’s not something that you need to do or need to worry about. So if you sit down, you want to unbutton, you stand up, keep it buttoned. Fine, but either keep it buttoned when you’re standing or unbuttoned when you’re standing. One or the other. Stay away from very busy or clashing patterns unless that’s part of your personal brand and generally when you’re on stage, if you sweat, don’t wear colors like lavender or mint or green, grey, light blue. So if you sweat a lot, wear black or white because it helps hide the pit stains. Darker colors will do that.

11:48 Okay, now, ladies. Same thing. Be consistent with your brand. Don’t wear clothes that reveal too much unless of course that’s part of your brand. Don’t… Oh yes. Make sure that you consider where you can put the mic pack or the transmitter for the microphone if you’re wearing what’s called a lavaliere, the little clip-on fob that goes on your shirt somewhere and then you have a transmitter pack and then that transmitter pack has gotta be on you somewhere. And certainly for men it just goes in their waist on their belt or around their waist pant, but women don’t always have that. You might be in a dress and then there’s no way to clip it on. So consider where that’s gonna go when you’re picking your outfit.

12:34 You can also wear a belt. You can get a wrap with a pocket in it, you can get it at most audio stores, that will wrap around right underneath your chest right above your waist and the microphone will slide in the back pocket, and then that can work underneath your dress. So if you’re working in a larger space often times the sound engineers will have those for you. But if you’re not, if you’re in a smaller space, but you still need to wear a mic, it’s something you may wanna pick up for yourself.

13:05 Or is there a belt on your dress that you can attach the mic transmitter to? It’ll probably be visible and it’s usually nicer when it’s not visible, but nonetheless it can be done like that. Stay away from noisy jewelery like bangles or heavy necklaces or large hanging earrings that may get picked up by the microphone. And even if you’re not wearing a mic, stay away from jewelery that makes noise because it can be distracting. All that clinking of the multiple bracelets can be a little bit distracting for people.

13:38 And be very careful about choosing spiky heels or very high heels. This is something that, we at Heroic Public Speaking, Amy, my partner, she addresses a lot with our students. Often women will like to wear high heels because they look great. They’re really cool, they’re sexy, they make your leg look great, they’re great for the line of the dress, the whole thing. And I know it’s often a style statement, a choice, but just like cement shoes and even often more so they can make a lot of noise when you walk, and they also can inhibit movement.

14:13 So if the audience thinks you look uncomfortable, then you’ll look weak and you’ll lose some of your power. And you might not realize it, but you probably look more uncomfortable than you might think to the people in the audience. This is what we see consistently. We ask the person on stage, “Oh, are you uncomfortable in those shoes? It looks like when you walk, you’re a little bit shaky or just doesn’t look strong.” And they say, “No, no, no, I’m fine.” And then we ask the audience, and the audience says “No, no, you look like you could fall down if you move too fast. Looks like your ankle is gonna twist.” Because especially when you’re on a stage and you’re a little bit higher up, people are really getting a good view of your ankle and your shoes. So they end up seeing that a lot more if they were say sitting at tables and you were in front of them where they didn’t see your shoes very much.

15:04 But nonetheless, it’s still something that you should consider because you want a lot of stability on stage. You wanna be grounded. And also the more grounded you are the more stable you are, the better it is for your vocal production so you can breathe better. Makes a big difference in terms of how people respond to you. Remember the choices you make with respect to the way you look tells people something about you. And if it looks like you’re trying very hard that may send a message that you don’t wanna send. Okay, and now here’s a thing, hair. Gotta be careful about your hair because if it’s long, and it falls in front of your face then people can’t see your eyes, and they need to see your eyes, but they need to see your face for that matter. So if it’s long, see if you can style it so that’s it’s out of your face for better sight lines.

16:00 And then, of course, you don’t consistently do the hair flip. The hair flip, you can’t see me, but I’m demonstrating them… Oh, I don’t have any hair, but I’m imagining. I’m flipping my hair to the side, which if you do regularly during a presentation, it will start to get a little bit annoying maybe to the audience.

16:18 You know, it’s tough. We’ve got a lot of things to consider when you’re performing and when you do consider these things and you get used to them, they become a non issue to you. You master it. They’re no problem. At the beginning, these are a number of different things to think about that heretofore you may not have.

16:35 Okay, let’s talk about your skirt because a skirt line changes when you’re sitting down. And make sure that if it’s a short skirt, that it doesn’t ride up if you’re sitting down, say, on a panel or in front of a group of people or in front of one person in such a way that it will make you uncomfortable or show more of your legs than you want or just send a message that you may not want to send.

17:02 So sometimes when we pick a new outfit we may not have worn it often because we’re saving it for the special occasion, and then we don’t realize how that outfit behaves in different body positions and moving differently, so that’s something to think about. And also if you’re on a platform or a stage and you wear a short skirt and you’re higher than the audience, well, you know their view is angled up, so that’s something you need to consider.

17:40 And then, of course, sometimes even if you’re standing up, your skirt may pull up depending on how it fits you and then you might constantly find yourself pulling it down. And of course, you don’t wanna be doing that while you’re speaking because the audience notices that and it looks like you’re a little bit uncomfortable and then that’s what your speech becomes about if it becomes a real habit, if you do it over and over again.

18:05 And then, same thing with dresses that are too long. If you wear a dress that’s too long, and it looks like you may trip, even if you’re not going to, if it looks like you may trip, the audience might be uncomfortable, and then it distracts them from listening to you and your message. And then, be mindful of how the lights affect your clothing, because some clothing, especially sheer pieces, they can become see-through under the lights. And you may not want that, unless it’s part of your brand. So those are a whole bunch of things to consider, but maybe it’s time to go out and work with a stylist, or do a little bit of shopping, upgrade yourself.

18:42 It’s a brand thing; it’s a reputation thing, it’s the way you wanna be known thing, it’s just like everything you say… Well, everything you say certainly tells the world something about you, but everything you do tells the world even more about you. And then of course, what you wear fills in that story as well. So if you haven’t yet, go pick up a copy of ‘Steal the Show.’ It is a Wall Street Journal #4 bestseller. We just came out; it’s been out for a week now and we’re on the Wall Street Journal list already. USA Today best seller. And if you have read it, go on over to and check out the courses that we’ve got coming up. We’ve got online courses, on-demand courses, and we do live events all over the world.

19:35 So keep thinking big about who you are, and what you offer the world. I love you very much, and not in a weird way. But I love you for being the big thinker that you are and because you’re willing to go out and take risks. You’re willing to save the world one speech at a time. Bye for now.