Gini Dietrich

Attire Not Appropriate for Public Speaking

By: Gini Dietrich | May 26, 2010 | 
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I’ve been thinking a lot about this since I saw Avinash Kaushik give the keynote at SES…in jeans. It’s bothering me so much that we discussed it a bit about it during dinner at Counselors Academy and, based on the reaction I received there, I know it’s going to ruffle some feathers. But it’s important to begin the conversation…

Wearing jeans for public speaking – keynote, breakout, panel, whatever it might be – is not appropriate OR professional.

I get that jeans have become the social media uniform. But I don’t get why so many really popular public speakers think it’s okay to wear jeans when they are on stage.

In our industry, everyone complains that we still don’t have a seat at the boardroom table, yet we think it’s okay to wear jeans as our professional dress. If you want to sit at the table in the greater business conversation, you have to look like you belong there.

I remember many years ago, Gary Kisner told me that you have to look the part if you want people to take you seriously. He was using this lesson in the context of telling me to stop biting my fingernails. He asked me why I thought real estate agents drove nice cars or bankers wore expensive suits. It’s because people want to do business with professionals who LOOK like they’re successful. The banker may have only one expensive suit, but he looks the part. The real estate agent may have had to forgo buying a house for the nice car, but when clients get in her car, they think she’s successful.  Perception very much is reality.

If you want a seat at the proverbial table, look and act like you belong there. You’ll go from offering social media consulting as a tool in the toolbox to having very high-level conversations about strategy and business growth, as it relates to your expertise. People want to work with professionals who look successful and, let’s be real, even though your jeans cost $200, they’re still jeans.

As my mom always says, “It’s better to be overdressed than under-dressed.”

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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94 Comments on "Attire Not Appropriate for Public Speaking"

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Andy Donovan
6 years 2 months ago

Great post Gini – and yes probably will ruffle some feathers but something about jeans just sends a completely different message by a public speaker than business casual or more formal attire. I think if you are trying to portray an air of professionalism and want to be taken seriously on the topic you want to dress the part…be interesting to see how many disagree on that one. Cheers,

Andy

Marijean
6 years 2 months ago

I totally agree with you. But then, I’m the girl who wears lipstick in her home office. Alone. People often complain that they’re uncomfortable in business dress, and that is usually the reason for the jeans, but sometimes they just need to have an intervention and to see how much more professional they look when they’re dress appropriately. Great post!

Shelly
6 years 2 months ago

I agree… I think informal wear is good for some situations – but not if you want to look professional! I always over-dress just in case…

and another good example of how we dress – and it really isn’t that important (as being professional) is on airplanes… I still ‘dress’ to travel – and sitting next to someone in their pajamas is a little weird! LOL

Molly Fulton
6 years 2 months ago
Kudos to you for putting this one out there! I’m sure you will get some impassioned responses – here’s mine. At one time, I worked as the director for a large corporate childcare center. My peers usually dressed much like the teachers and appropriate to working with kids: loose, comfortable, cheap and casual. When we got a new DM that required us to dress as business professionals many objected that it was pointless. My experience, however was that I FELT different dressed as a corporate exec, and subsequently the overall performance of my center improved markedly.We maxed enrollment and had… Read more »
Teresa
Teresa
6 years 2 months ago
Addressing another great topic, Gini. This is another sign of our times, along with no longer addressing superiors, or anyone, for that matter, by Mr. or Ms. I am not a speaker, but I have struggled with this issue myself having traveled a great deal for business. Do I travel in jeans & hope my luggage with my business attire for the meeting arrives with me? Or do I travel dressed and ready to work as soon as I’ve stepped off the plane, however uncomfortable or impractical it seems at the time? I will confess that I have ended up… Read more »
Gini Dietrich
6 years 2 months ago
Molly, you address a very good topic that I didn’t explore in the blog post. A couple of years ago, it was abnormally cold in Chicago and our managing director suggested we allow employees to wear jeans every day both to stay warm and to save on dry cleaning bills. I was talked into it and I watched productivity plummet. You just behave differently when you’re dressed for success. I’m not going to pretend I don’t wear jeans to work. I do. But typically only once a week when I have no meetings and know it’s just a behind-the-computer-screen kind… Read more »
johnpneedham
6 years 2 months ago
I completely agree with your points, Gini. I am an independent consultant and I work at client sites pretty much all the time. I wear a suit to work Every. Single. Day. My clients also hire other consultants, and I am constantly amazed by what those other consultants consider proper work attire. Jeans, scruffy clothes. It says a lot about their level of professionalism. I’m very good at what I do – and as a result, I can charge the highest rates in my industry. But dressing professionally, and acting professionally, is another part of my success. I don’t think… Read more »
LaDonna Coy
6 years 2 months ago
Thx for opening the conversation Gini. Your post reminds of what my hubby told his son when he was looking for a job back in his high school days — the people doing the hiring (and to your point in the board room) are people our age and older who expect presenters and members to dress the part (a certain amount of conforming to a norm). Does wearing jeans indicate an attitude of confidence and authenticity or does it indicate a degree of inconsideration for the audience or maybe the thought about appearance never crosses their minds? I’ve actually seen… Read more »
Nick Harrison
6 years 2 months ago

I honestly didn’t completely agree with you at first Gini, but the more and more I thought about it, when public speaking you are the expert. People are not only paying money most of the time, they are paying in time. I could see how wearing jeans could cloud a speaker’s message and overall value. I could also see how it may be insulting to some. It took me half an hour for it to seep in, but I agree. Good post Gini.

Jelena
6 years 2 months ago
I think there’s a certain point at which perceptions of success swing full circle and people get suspicious if someone ISN’T prone to dress casually–wouldn’t you worry if Steve Jobs showed up without his jeans and black turtleneck? People joke about how in Silicon Valley you can’t tell the homeless apart from the millionaires except by their watches. But if you’re not at that level of success, I agree–“dress for the job you want” shouldn’t mean that when you’re speaking in public you get to dress like Steve Jobs! I don’t mind it personally, especially if the jeans worn are… Read more »
Karen Rocks
6 years 2 months ago

Seeing someone wearing jeans while speaking in public tells me one of two things. 1. They are a slob and or don’t care about themselves. 2. They are so full of themselves that they think they can do what they want. Either personality trait loses big points for me. This brings me back to my college days on the speech (forensics) team, men and women wore suits, period. Credibility lends itself partially to a professional wardrobe. Great topic Gini (as always).

Dena Saper
Dena Saper
6 years 2 months ago

I’ve just lost a large amount of weight and I’m doing some wardrobe updating. Some days you’ll find me working in a wrinkled shirt and khakis (jeans aren’t allowed) and others you’ll find me in a sweater set and nice skirt. I definately get better reactions in the latter outfit. The other day, I heard someone discussing me and they said I was pretty, yet disheveled — like I’d been dragged backwards through a hedge. That was quite the wake-up call!

Dallas Kincaid
6 years 2 months ago

I just sent this blog post to Steve Jobs…

Nancy Myrland
6 years 2 months ago

Gini, I completely agree with you. When speaking, working or even going to volunteer business-oriented committee meetings with anyone that even resembles a client or potential client, then I wear professional clothing, which to me means either a suit or at least a jacket/blazer, whatever you want to call it. We have the rest of the day to wear what makes us comfortable.

Peter Strohmeyer
6 years 2 months ago

I guess there is always an exception to the rules. It’s hard to fight for a standard when mavericks look to someone as their role model that bucks the system.

http://psweb.me/steve-jobs-jeans-ipad

Jon Buscall
6 years 2 months ago

I’m with you on this one! Here in Sweden business attire is quite smart. Not necessarily a formal suit, but definitely a jacket and good clothes. Jeans don’t really cut it.

I’ve talked a lot in Norway though and often clients turn up in jeans, t-shirts and with rucksacks. I always feel overdressed if I cross the border.

Lindsay Griffiths
6 years 2 months ago
I actually hadn’t thought that much about it, though I did recently go to a social media conference where pretty much EVERY speaker wore jeans. It didn’t bother me much at the time, although anytime I’m speaking, I wear a suit or a dress – always. My mom always told me to dress for the job you want, not the job you have, and because I work with lawyers who are generally more formally dressed themselves, I dress accordingly. So I have to agree with you too. Although for me, working at home (and sitting at my computer in cutoff… Read more »
Peter Strohmeyer
6 years 2 months ago

@Jelena Knods in agreement
@Dallas Kincaid LOL

Steve at nobel prize 2007 http://psweb.me/steve-jobs-wears-tie,

It depends on your industry,standards and your status. In the mean team, dress Steve Jobs as you see fit. (Spoiler: No suits to be found in this closet.)

http://psweb.me/dressing-steve-jobs-fun

Nick Harrison
6 years 2 months ago

Think Gini’s next dare should be doing a video completely dressed like Steve Jobs. shhhhhhh don’t tell her I said this.

Rusty
Rusty
6 years 2 months ago

In Vienna, the standard business look for men is a crisp starched spread-collar shirt, Countess Mara tie (vest optional), expensive, tailored pinstriped or dark blazer, awesome paddock-style boots, and…indigo jeans.

It looks magnificent. Serious, yet confidently comfortable.

Laura Scholz
6 years 2 months ago
Great topic, Gini! My attire runs the gamut from gym clothes to dresses and heels, and while I feel perfectly productive sitting at home or even meeting a friend for breakfast in my gym clothes, I totally agree with you about speaking and professional situations. Even though I gave away all my suits (they just don’t “suit” me, and my business is much more creative), I never show up at events in jeans. It just doesn’t project the right image–even nice jeans. Of course, I grew up in the South, wasn’t allowed to wear pants to church and went to… Read more »
Jamie Sandford
6 years 2 months ago

Don’t get me started. That is all. 🙂

Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Always look upward for your attire cues. If your CEO is a jeans man/woman, do that. If not, then don’t.

Jamie

Lon
Lon
6 years 2 months ago

In Oregon, we had a governor for eight years that wore blue jeans all the time. Part of his persona and personal badge. Two by the ways: One, he is running again for governor after being out of office for a time; and two, when he went to a local country club when he was a governor, the club refused to let him in until he put on slacks. Yes, he did wear a tie and sport coat as well.

Ryan L Cox
6 years 2 months ago
It seems to me this particular post has taken the roll of “yes men” because I honestly would of thought that conversation would have been two-sided. I’m sorry but I completely disagree with your take and your post Gini. If the clothes I wear detour in any way, shape, or form from my message then I think those hearing it need to change their glasses. The notion that “you are taken as seriously as your attire” is beyond preposterous. It’s down right wrong. I could honestly throw up if I hear another person post, comment, say, or scream “dress like… Read more »
Bob Reed
Bob Reed
6 years 2 months ago

Depends on the person, their vibe and the venue. Are jeans considered the same as cargo pants and cords? I’ve seen pictures of Tim Ferriss wear all three when giving his presentations (and no, not at the same time). As long as someone doesn’t present him or herself as a total slob, denim doesn’t bother me. I go to events to listen and participate, not to critique fashion.

Rob S
6 years 2 months ago
I think the first question I have is why somebody would fixate on someone else’s wardrobe this much. I think jeans can be pulled off by certain people, but it really depends on the intent of the message. If I’m talking about something that requires rigorous methodology – as an analytics related presentation would – I would associate jeans with an informality and immediately discount the findings. If I’m listening to creatives speak about fluffy cloud ideas, jeans are fine. There’s also the question of esteem. Steve Jobs can wear jeans because he’s demonstrated success. A novice does not have… Read more »
Teresa Basich
6 years 2 months ago
Feather ruffler. 😉 Here’s the thing — I think it’s completely dependent on the corporate culture. Our culture is fairly casual, and I think it’d be a misrepresentation of what we stand for and what kind of culture we uphold as an organization if we presented in full business suits. But that’s *us*. Something to think about, too — and this is a bit of a personal thing — suits can be intimidating. Do I think they look professional? Absolutely. Do they scream, “Hey, come talk to me”? Not at all. Do I let any of it stand in my… Read more »
Ryan Knapp
6 years 2 months ago
I’m with Rusty above. I gave a presentation at the National Soccer Coaches Association of America last year and wore a pressed shirt, coat jeans and my best pair of brown shoes. One of the owners tugged at my coat and complimented it, and even a few of the people made comments about how well I was dressed. Granted, that’s me all the time, but I definitely have jeans as a standby wherever I go, complete with an always ironed shirt and normally a jacket. Shirt always tucked in btw, NEVER out. I do of course have a suit, and… Read more »
Arminda
6 years 2 months ago

As a sales professional, I was taught that if I expected potential clients to give me their money (and lots of it) – I’d better look like I knew what to do with it. Do I evoke success – as you so aptly stated in your post – in the way I dress and carry myself? Here’s to professionals who understand the significance of attire.

Lisa Gerber
6 years 2 months ago

When I got my First Real Job out of the school of waiting tables (long after I had graduated college), it was a concierge position. I didn’t want that job, I wanted the marketing position two steps up from me. I went out and spent $700 on a professional wardrobe which was a lot of money to me then, and I was definitely an overdressed concierge. But I was in that job I wanted within two years. I agree with you, and Jamie’s comment above.
Dress for the job you want.

Roger Wohlner
6 years 2 months ago

In the financial advice world either “decent” business casual or full business attire is appropriate. At a conference I recently attended most of the speakers (who were my peers) were business casual and this felt appropriate. When I address employee groups to do financial education I also generally do business casual. I want to look professional, but I also do not want to come accross as intimidating in a suit. However, I just wouldn’t feel comfortable in jeans, no matter how casually the audience might be dressed.

Kristen
Kristen
6 years 2 months ago
As someone who loved my private school uniform in high school and has presented numerous times (not in jeans), I would almost want to agree with you except that by using Avinash as your example, you immediately disprove your entire theory. I’ve seen Avinash present on many occasions, and to put it simply – no one knows their sh*t better than he does. And he’s an excellent presenter! Keeping the audience interested, engaged and excited. He reminds me of another great presenter – Seth Godin. And, yeah, he was in jeans the last time I saw him too. Ryan phrased… Read more »
Derek Walker
Derek Walker
6 years 2 months ago

Would one of you insisting on no jeans, please tell Steve Jobs to stop wearing jeans because we all know how no one listens to him because of how he is dressed. I missed the whole introduction of the ipad because I was trying to figure out why he wore jeans.

Steven K Gray
6 years 2 months ago

Hey Gini,

Great point, and one that needs to be addressed. Our garments say volumes about us, and if we want to be perceived as professionals then we must conform to the precedents of the professional world. I know I wouldn’t feel very comfortable if I went to the doctor’s office and he walked into the consultation room in gym shorts. I’d be headed to another practice quick!

Matt Dibble
6 years 2 months ago

Interesting take Gini, I wish we could get away from this type of mentality… in a sense it’s judging the book of the cover… but apparently we’re going to roll with this old school mentality for a lot longer.

I’m actually glad there are so many people who feel jeans are inappropriate, because when I show up to speak in jeans (looking all dipped in butter and shining), it sends the same message as when I bring boxed wine to a party… I’m here to break rules, and I’ll be doing it all night.

Matt Dibble
6 years 2 months ago

*the book by it’s cover*

Nick Pepito
6 years 2 months ago
I’m split on this topic as I prescribe to the “depends on the situation” thought line. I do understand that perception is reality (to some) and others reality is reality. Perception of jeans being unprofessional causing dismissal of an idea is a fact of life. Perception exists and continues to exist because people choose to pass it along. If we stopped basing judgment on attire and focused on the merit of presentation, information, or knowledge being shared would perception change over time? Would “judging a book by its cover” become “judge a book by its contents”? There was a time… Read more »
David Griner
6 years 2 months ago

Avinash could wear Leia’s bikini from Return of the Jedi and I’d still be in the front row.

I mean, come on, this isn’t some Gen Y personal branding consultant. It’s a guy who works for Google and has written some of the best books of all time on Web analytics. We’re lucky he bothers to wear pants at all, but we’re far luckier that he’s so generous with his time and insight.

Martin Waxman
6 years 2 months ago

I remember talking with you about this with you at Counselors, Gini – and I agree on the jeans front. I spent many years as a writer who only wore blue jeans (and the occasional sport jacket for a reading) and I like dressing up. As silly as that sounds, it does make me feel professional. The funny thing is that like the crisp white shirts, suits and ties the ‘Madmen’ wore, jeans have, in their own way, become a uniform.

Brian Conrey
Brian Conrey
6 years 2 months ago
If you’re presenting in the professional world, dressing professionally is the ante. It’s not optional. You will indeed be taken as seriously as you dress, like it or not. If you’re not serious enough about the client or the job that you’re willing to dress professionally, they’re never going to let your words and your work speak for themselves. This isn’t about fair or unfair, it’s how the world is conditioned to respond. It will change, over time, but it hasn’t changed yet. Those of you operating at the fringes of the bell curve risk alienating your clients/customers if those… Read more »
Vicki Kunkel
6 years 2 months ago
The general rule that I have always advised my presentation skills clients is this: Always dress SLIGHTLY better than your audience. (If you dress too high above them, you risk coming off as omnipotent and arrogant. But if you dress at or below their level, you don’t come off as professional enough.) One time when I was hired to do a presentation skills class for a group, the manager warned me ahead of time that the group thought that attire had no impact on the presentation. However, one of the goals this manager had for the training was to impress… Read more »
Laura Roeder
6 years 2 months ago

I gotta say I wholeheartedly disagree with this post! I’m done with arbitrary fashion rules for speakers, just as much as I’m done with the idea that realtors should drive nice cars. I think dressing up for work is silly as well. If it makes you work better then go for it, but I think a required dress code is as outdated as requiring women to wear skirts and hose to work.

Jonathan Levitt
Jonathan Levitt
6 years 2 months ago
Gini, I could not disagree with you more….What a ridiculous post and an even more ridiculous topic. My guess is you were too busy looking at his wardrobe to listen to what came out of his mouth…or you’d have realized the you were listening to one of the smartest marketing and analytical minds out there. Avinash sits at the head of the proverbial table. The man consults for the biggest companies in the world (the C-Suite of the Fortune 100), has written two award winning books, and works for a small little company you might know called Google. I think… Read more »
Siddhartha
6 years 2 months ago

I have to agree with Laura, what makes a suit “business attire”? It’s all just convention. I’ll tell you why the uniform of social media is jeans; because people wear jeans when they’re socializing!

I think people are realizing the business world is changing. We don’t work in factories anymore (most of us) and we don’t get dressed up to eat dinner in our own house. Let’s stop making our lives any more uncomfortable than they need to be.

Levi Strauss
6 years 2 months ago

I am insulted and will haunt you from the grave… and not just me Ms. Dietrich, I have friends you know. Jordache, Lee and of course Z. Cavarrici.

There’s a place for you in Pants Hell…

hahahahahahahahahaha

nap
nap
6 years 2 months ago
The argument here is ridiculous. If you really want to be taken seriously in work and in life, the secret isn’t dressing better. It’s executing. Do good work. Give good presentations. Inspire people. Create things that matter. If you need to dress a certain way to impress people within your organization, community, or culture, I’d argue that you need to find a different crowd (or company) to attach yourself to. Stop worrying about how others (who are presumably already successful at said things) represent themselves in public because it just doesn’t matter. It’s not how you look, it’s who you… Read more »
Nora McDougall-Collins
6 years 2 months ago

In a way, it’s all about respect. My husband always says that if you want to receive respect, give it. Dressing well for others shows that you respect them and think they are worth dressing up for.

I teach adult education classes. While many of the instructors wear jeans, I dress professionally for my classes. Occasionally, my students will make a comment on my appearance. I tell them that I dress up for them because I think they are worth it. One student replied, “We noticed and we appreciate it.”

Tim Tripcony
Tim Tripcony
6 years 2 months ago
As a software developer, public speaker, and former consultant, I am aware on several levels of the impact that attire can have upon perception – both how the wearer is perceived by others, and how they perceive themselves. This is why I stubbornly insist upon dressing casually in every situation unless winning that battle would cost more than conforming to convention. Occasionally I’ll see that some new study has once again found that students perform better on tests when dressed formally than they do when dressed casually… this never surprises me: the average student is trapped in the most insecure… Read more »
Marian Schembari
6 years 2 months ago

Yeah, there needs to be less focus on what someone is wearing and more on what they’re saying. Take a chill pill, ya’ll.

Arik Hanson
6 years 2 months ago
Isn’t it funny how the smallest things always raise the biggest conversations? 48 comments on jeans vs. Dockers! 😉 I don’t speak in public all that often, but when I do I tend to dress to the crowd. If I’m presenting to a bunch of accountants, I’m definitely going suit and tie. On the other hand, if I’m presenting at our local Social Media Breakfast, it’s probably jeans and a jacket. If I wore a suit to an event like that, I’d be mocked and ridiculed (OK, I’m exaggerating, but not much). In my mind, it’s all about the audience.… Read more »
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