When you’re presenting on stage in front of a large group of people, you need to minimize all visual distractions. Yes, minimize distractions on your PowerPoint slides, but on YOU too! The audience shouldn’t have to spend a lot of time processing your outfit or your “look.” If an attention-grabbing look is part of your brand persona and it’s expected by your audience, like the amazing Amanda Palmer, then do it. But most of us can’t pull that off professionally.
The eyes are drawn to visual distractions, such as things that move or clash with our surroundings. It’s part of our whole “fight-or-flight” instinct thing. So, minimizing those distractions in your appearance will help your audience stay focused on your presentation.
Men have it easy. They put on a classic pair of pants, crisp shirt, and, perhaps, a tie or blazer. Women have way too many choices. I get asked by women if there are any dress code best-practices for presenters. I have a few personal ones that I usually share privately but … here you go. I’m putting them out there.
Here’s my advice on how women can minimize visual distractions during a presentation:
/01 Never let them see you sweat
The shimmer of sweat is not hot. This is not hot. If your nerves cause you to sweat it when you speak, use antiperspirant. And it’s not only for under your arms, but your face too! I learned this tip from an ear/nose/throat doctor. I have Frey’s syndrome. Long story short is that I had surgery behind my ear as a kid and, as my nerves repaired, they crisscrossed. When my mouth tells me to salivate, my cheek thinks it’s supposed to sweat. So, swipe a little antiperspirant anywhere you sweat. Your pits, your face, but don’t let ‘em see you sweat. It’s visually distracting.
/02 Don’t wear short sleeves
Guys rarely make this business fashion choice. Not many guys wear short-sleeved shirts to work (unless they are athletic trainers) and they especially don’t wear short, short sleeves—or go sleeveless—on stage during presentations. If your arms are buff like Michele Obama’s, you might be able to pull it off because it all stays in one place. But if the flesh on your arms moves at two different speeds, wear longer sleeves. I’m 50 now and have embraced my dimples, but choose to conceal them to minimize distraction.
/03 Go down another vein
I was born with hereditary varicose veins on my left leg. My grandmother, mother, my daughter, and I all have lumpy, purple visual overload on one leg. They aren’t bad enough for surgery, so I minimize the potential distraction by wearing pants, long skirts, or panty hose (I’m thrilled that leggings and opaque hose are back!).
/04 Modesty is the best policy
Miniskirts and plunging necklines are great at a club but aren’t appropriate in the boardroom. Many women before us made sacrifices to get us into positions of power and find our voice, don’t minimize their effort by using sex to communicate. Cleavage isn’t classy at work.
I’m not saying you should be embarrassed about your body. And I’m not encouraging you to despise or conceal how you were made—everyone should be comfortable in their own skin. But you should be aware that physical visual distractions can be just as important as the distractions on your slides. Just like we should simplify our slides by removing annoying animated gifs, complex graphics, and extra bullet points, these tips are meant to encourage visual simplification. By decreasing the amount of time it takes an audience to process you, you also increase the amount of attention they pay to your message.