How to dress for your TED talk
you create a captivating presence,
evoke a desired mood
communicate who you are before you start talking
Fair warning: Very long and a very deeply analytical blog post on seeing (every inch of) you from the audience’s perspective. (16 min read)
First of all, massive congratulations. By doing a TED talk you’ve made it. You have become an expert. Your credibility has instantly increased by 300% percent. Your TED talk video will be archived into perpetuity. That’s wonderful.
But have you also considered that the future viewers, even future generations, will draw conclusions about your expertise based only on a thumbnail before they ever hear a single word leaving your mouth? In fact, if that thumbnail isn’t arresting enough they may not even hear your speech.
The reason is simple: Prejudice is a basic human commodity.
I know, it’s cynical. Your audience will focus on your (not estimated but assumed) height, gender, age, level of visual appeal, health, financial status, social status and other elements completely irrelevant to your message before they hear what you have to say. Yeah, your sex drive, too. By the time you are on the mark taking your first breath, before you make an attempt to win them with your carefully crafted hook, the audience has already written your life’s story in their minds. Your job on that stage is to reinforce it or refute it. That depends on your appearance.
Because 80% of the information our brain processes is based on what we see.
People revere impeccably dressed public speakers. Making an extra effort means winning them twice.
When you are on that stage you want to have every possible tool at your disposal so that they concentrate solely on your presence there, on your speech that will grasp them at the beginning and continue to captivate them entirely until you say: ‘Thank you’. One of those tools at your disposal is your outfit. Not only will it help with the hook tremendously but it will also make your audience take you seriously tout de suite.
The following analysis has five (5) major parts. All them are written from the audience’s visual perception standpoint and for the visual effect while accommodating your personality, thought processes, and your inimitable self-expression both visual and verbal.
1. We will start by analyzing your audience – who they are, what their motives are, how they behave and why (they can be so mean).
2. Then we will proceed to the singular segment of your sartorial self-expression that will always make the biggest and the longest lasting impact – the colour(s) you choose to wear on that stage.
3. Once that is clarified, you will become enlightened in lateral matters – your horizontal lines.
4. Get in (the right) line! a.k.a. find the alignment with your essence to exude palpable charisma.
5. Why style consistency matters even for a single public appearance. Read until the end for the things to come full circle.
Now you know what to expect so get ready for juicy details of your appearance that might make you sweat at first, roll your eyes, and gasp for air occasionally.
1. The feast of the locusts
People will notice your style before they notice your personality. Unrefined style creates a barrier between what you are capable of and the perception you create on people who cannot see it – yet. If you look like you don’t know what you are doing when you dress, people automatically think that you also don’t know what you are saying. Simply speaking, sartorially suspect speakers do not gain trust easily.
Nobody is spared. Even my beloved Brené Brown wasn’t. This is what people do. Once the amygdala is activated we don’t own our brains for a brief moment as the deeply buried set of neurons swiftly seizes the thinking parts and turns us into lizards, so to speak. We are genetically set to make hasty calculations called instincts to decide if we should flight, fight, freeze, fornicate or feed ourselves with our own bias. People deliberately watching any TED talk typically fulfill basic standards of intelligence, so they understand that there is no danger to flight or fight (they paid for their tickets to be there and listen or searched you up after all). Essentially, no need to freeze either because seemingly dead highly unresponsive audience is demoralizing for any speaker. Well, fornicating is for obvious reasons out of the question, so we are left with the fifth element – food.
In those mere three to five seconds a small but significant fraction of your audience would eat you alive if it could. Why is that small portion significant? Because they have opinions, a right to express them and God knows that they do exercise their right to exhaustion on every imaginable digital portal known to human. They have whetted their appetite by the assumptions they already made about you in the nick of time between you leaving the backstage and standing in the spotlight ready to elevate their knowledge on your favourite subject. And if you don’t look the part, they will devour you both mentally and in writing.
How do you kill them or win them over?
Stab them with impeccable style. Look irresistible. Make them want to be you. Turn them into Pavlov’s dogs. Let them put you on a pedestal because you already are a ‘TED-talker’ and they are not. Then simply overdeliver. Easy.
Now that you know how to make friends with your all your audience’s minds, it’s time to reveal what they see with their eyes.
Photo credit: John-Mark Smith
2. Captivating Colour Matters
My clients and social media audiences know this by heart but since you are new you need to go through the initiation ritual – colour christening.
Colour is a basic human experience.
Read the following three points, engrave them in your skull from the inside in Braille and you will never make a colour mistake:
A. Nothing can compensate for wearing an unflattering colour.
B. People see colour first and remember it the longest.
C. Colour creates an immediate emotional response in our brain and it happens in less than a second!
Let’s dive deep!
A. Nothing can compensate for wearing an unflattering colour
I have created an extensive, topic exhausting course on colours for image and branding called Colour Breakthrough but now you need an instant essence version so let me share with you with two scientifically measured facts:
80% of your buying decisions are colour based.
And so are other people’s.
Let me ask you a question: Would you buy you based on the colours you wear?
Let me ask you another: Do you think that others would ‘buy’ you based on the colours you wear?
You make a myriad of assessments from the moment you open our eyes until you close them based on the colours you see. The colour of the sky influences your sartorial choices, the colour of your food influences your culinary and consumption choices, the colour of the wall in your work space influences your productivity, the colours that people you see wear influence your assumptions about them on a major scale. I could go on and on for days but let me tell you this: Colour = light = energy. Colour emits energy and it influences your own, based on which you make decisions. Decisions about – what to wear, what to eat, who to talk to, who to make friends with, who to trust. More on trust later.
I have three pieces of radical revelation for you:
1. Wearing the right colours will always outperform the price of your outfits.
2. There are four basic categories of colours of garments in your style: great colours that make you look resplendent, good colours that are fine for you, just ok colours that are not terrible for you but don’t do much for your appearance either, and the colours you should never ever, under absolutely no circumstances wear anywhere, even in the dark.
Because the colours in the last group make you look sickly.
The subject of colour is way too complex to cover in such a small space, hence the extensive course Colour Breakthrough, but in a nutshell, unflattering colours will create an unhealthy and completely unnatural film on your face. The colour of the film varies from gloomy grey, to gruesome green, to jaundiced yellow, to raging red, to bewildering blue and valedictory violet, to chalk white.
Even though the extent of these colour curses are far more noticeable on Causasians, it doesn’t mean that people with deeper melanin level are spared such pleasantries. Although, the negative effect is not as strong as with white / light skin tints, dark people more easily disappear on the stage if their colour choices are not carefully crafted to make them stand out.
Regardless your skin colour, when selecting your outfit for your TED talk your goal is twofold: to find out which colours cause this visual catastrophe in your particular case to avoid them at all costs permanently and which colours will make you glow on that stage so you can wear one or two of them and shine even to the shy lady in the back row.
3. Every single person on the planet has a unique set of flattering colours. Neither of your nearest blood relatives has the exact same colour palette as you do. No, not even your mom, sorry.
I strongly disagree with a statement that it doesn’t matter what you wear as long as you deliver your talk with conviction. You simply cannot deny science or rely solely on the people who, due to nature, won’t notice that a colour doesn’t suit you. There are only about 10 % of them and even their range of colour vision deficiency varies from not seeing red, blue, or green properly. A very few people (one in about 45,000) do not see any colours at all.
In the process of getting to know your audience you might find it though-provoking that men are more prone to colour vision deficiency than women (8% vs. 0.5%). Also, the lighter the skin the higher the percentage of people with the colour vision deficiency. Scandinavians / Caucasians have the highest number of colour blind people while sub-Saharans can barely count any.
(Have you ever wondered why men’s merchandise in the Western world has such a limited and seemingly repetitive colour palette? Have you ever noticed that melanin men wear more and brighter colours than their colour counterparts? Now you know that it’s because they see them.)
95% of your buying decisions are emotional.
Harvard University professor Gerald Zaltman says that 95% of purchasing decisions are subconscious.
So if 80% of buying decisions are colour-based and 95% of them are subconscious, do you still believe that a colour is not a deciding factor whether people, especially those who see you for the first time, find you trustworthy to ‘buy’ what you have to say?
What we think doesn’t directly correlate with what we feel. While we can control some of our emotions, most of them just occur and we have no power over them. Friend or foe principle at play, once again. Lizard brain activated.
So, what are you going to wear on your TED talk?
Will you create the right ‘buying’ emotion in your audience’s collective brain?
Will they trust you right from the moment you set the foot on that stage or will you have to win their hearts despite your appearance?
The answer to the second question is easy: gaining trust is considerably harder than creating it no matter how much people like those Susan Boyle moments of surprise. Besides, TED talk is not the underdog-turned-into-a-superstar type of an event. You are a professional. Dress like one.
B. People see colour first and remember it the longest.
People can identify and remember a colour before they can identify and remember any other sartorial factor. So if you wear a black dress or a suit you have to deliver an exceptionally memorable speech with intergalactic impact to be remembered as one of the speakers from the Black hole. Whereas when you wear a distinctive and flattering colour that will make it easy for your audience to see you on the stage, you will be instantly recognized, forever remembered and highly recommended before you finish. Quid pro quo kind of a situation.
Speaking of visibility, there are three crucial steps you need to make in the TED talk preparation part:
I. Check the background colour on the stage you will be on beforehand and choose your outfit afterwards.
II. Check the background colour on the stage you will be on beforehand and choose your outfit afterwards.
III. Check the background colour on the stage you will be on beforehand and choose your outfit afterwards.
I cannot stress this step enough. Black outfit on a black background makes you look as if you stepped out of the pantomime performance next door. The audience will see your face and hands only. The same applies to white or any other colour that makes you disappear into the background and a public speaking oblivion in equal measure. Unless you have a specific purpose with such a visual, please please please, check the background colour on the stage you will be on beforehand and choose your outfit afterwards.
Do not rely on the spotlight. Be the spotlight!
If your voice is not strong enough, you’ll blend in.
If your message is not strong enough, you’ll blend in both metaphorically and visually. One enhances the other.
I know that black is many people’s first choice because it is easy (or lazy) and it is slimming (to a degree before it actually makes you look heavy) and it’s classic (or so you were told) and you cannot mess it up (let’s not go there) but the truth is that black is possibly the worst colour choice for the TED talk stage. Paradoxically, acid yellow has merit because they can at least see you.
All black outfit is especially unsuitable on a stage with a black background when your hair is on a darker side, when your skin is sporting a visible dose of melanin (not to mention a beard) or when you wear no makeup (why not?) because you singlehandedly become invisible. Don’t bother coming, just do a podcast. The visual effect will be the same.
C. Colour creates an immediate emotional response in our brain and it happens in less than a second!
Careful selection of colour is not only a powerful tool but also a strategy. Excellent colour choice immediately penetrates your audience’s mind and triggers the responses you have planned to trigger.
Select a colour – from your personalized colour palette – that helps your audience create that immediate emotional response to the topic of your speech. Make it easy for them to connect on the subliminal level and they will love you for it.
I want you to know that talking about health, mental wellbeing, creating positive relationships with people, environmental issues, holistic medicine and any sort of growth, positivity and/or healing really doesn’t connect with black in our brain without difficulties.
Forget about wearing black to look slim on that stage. That’s something you should have worked on months prior. Focus on what really matters – use every ethical tool to make them like you and trust you in the shortest time possible.
When you and I start working together on your image or to select a particular outfit for a particular event, creating your personalized colour palette is a must for us to proceed. There are a few ways how you can get the best results so don’t be shy to ask me about them.
3. Broaden your horizons, aim high and shorten your sleeves
If there is a single non-colour related shortcut to image success it is called a horizontal line.
It is the best kept secret in the styling industry simply because most of the stylists don’t know anything about it. No, not even some of the Hollywood A-listers. I know. I often have to eat a lot of salted caramel ice cream after I look on their creations on Instagram to cleanse my palate. On occasion, I pour a bit of single malt 15 year old whisky over it when a look particularly hurts my eyes.
Anyway, the two biggest mistakes public speakers make are the following:
1. They don’t know they have to alter their sleeves and hem their pants/trousers.
2. They don’t know where on earth their particular horizontal line is.
As a result, yards of fabric are wrapped around their ankles, their knuckles are covered and some females wear skirts and dresses of painfully unflattering lengths. Don’t come with pitchforks just yet. You can wear whatever you want. But when you are expected to look your best, why wouldn’t you make some effort?
Unless your goal indeed is to present yourself as one of those experts who defy the basic scientific fact that 55% of the impression you create on people have absolutely nothing to do with what you say! Or how you say it. More than half of your life’s story that your audiences form in their heads are based on what you wear!
Remember? Not estimated but assumed height, gender, age, level of visual appeal, health, financial status, social status and other elements, including your sex drive. And they manage to do all that in 50 milliseconds! It’s 0.05 second, just so you know.
Ill-fitting clothing cannot make up for anything you say. You will always be that speaker with a great brain but no taste or any sense of style who doesn’t get invitations to afterparties. Ouch! You don’t want to be that, do you?
Uprightness is your friend here. Try to create a long uninterrupted vertical line with the colours and style of your outfit to visually build authority.
Limit your horizontal lines to a minimum so your audience can see (albeit seemingly) a tall figure, which subconsciously translates as an authority giving his or her expert talk on something utterly fascinating.
When you pay attention to details, cumulatively, they create a perfect personal style.
Alterations cost peanuts and take up to three business days. You can get hemlines sorted for $10 to $25 and sleeves are between $15 and $40, depending on how genuine the tailoring of your jacket is.
Buying a jacket of your size doesn’t mean that the brand had you in their mind when they were sewing it. Hire a good and reliable tailor and we will not talk about it anymore.
4. Unequivocal alignment with your essence to exude palpable charisma
While your credentials and experience are principal in the circumstances, the visual impression can be overriding. How you dress today may become the only lasting memory of you for people who will never see you again in person. Don’t lack respect for the most important product you sell – yourself.
Packaging design is the deciding selling factor. The impact of your style is anchored in your ability to find balance between you and your audience while dressing for both. Your outfit on the stage should be at least indicative, if not definitive.
You don’t dress for good looks only. No, not even for the stage. You dress to extend your personality, your taste, your self-knowledge, your self-esteem. To get attention and gain trust – instantly without saying or doing anything at all!
When you set foot on that stage, your looks can open the door to their minds, their souls, and their wallets, if that’s a part of your plan (why shouldn’t it be?). Or slam it right in front your nose, lock it and throw away the key. To get back in requires a particular set of skills you may not have been trained for to possess.
Public speaking is a sort of performing art. The fundamental skill of oratory is confidence. When you find balance between your inner self-esteem and your outward appearance your perfectly fitting and flattering outfit can do both create the shield against the locusts and act as an accepted invitation into your brain from your fans. A reinforcement of a sort. The visual part of your identity and your message.
5. Why style consistency matters even for a single public appearance
People spontaneously relate to authenticity. They seek it, yearn for it and when they get it, they are grateful, thankful, and spread the word. When you ‘wear’ your personality, when you make it obvious in your style, which they will mine for later, they will see the congruence. They will notice that your outward appearance always matches who you are. Or who you presented on that stage. This is the moment when they will decide to absolutely trust you and they will let you into their lives.
Ergo yes, trust can be both given and earned. The former is up to your ability and willingness to bridge your authenticity and sartorialism for your stage appearances. The latter can be directly linked to consistency in your style. The former is a short term decision your audiences make on the spot, the latter is a heartfelt conclusion after a deeper analysis long after you meet them.
Your goal is to gain their instant trust right on that stage, maintain it throughout your speech, and reinforce it afterwards so that they will never question it.
So, when you get ready for the stage, do not wear a suit if a suit is not what you would normally wear. Conversely, if squared shoulders give you inner power, wear them! Heels? Yes! Flats? Absolutely! If that is what makes you you.
Sean Douglas, Wilmington, DE giving a TEDx talk on Hacking Your Brain For Success
People are smart. Even the mean ones, the locusts. They will see through you. They will google you before or after your talk, they will click ‘images’ and they will compare your pictures. If they see inconsistencies, they will assume (yes, they will make another assumption) that you are an unauthentic pretender, who hired a stylist once and that your entire performance was an act.
Style doesn’t equal a suit. Style is called personal for a reason. It should be an integral part of the experience of your presence. Think Brené Brown, Mel Robins, Gary Vaynerchuck, or Tony Robins.
This is why you have to find not only your authentic voice but also your authentic style. Dress who you are but, perhaps, a bit better. Up your sartorial game but stay the same. You will be flooded with appreciation and you will receive invitations to various professional events.
Good clothes will take you to the places you would have never expected to go. Style, class, and elegance will get you attention and money always follows attention.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t find yourself attractive right now. Important is what they think. Besides, when you listen to my advice I can make you look 10 interview/podcast invitations trustworthy (and 5 private phone numbers attractive) in any medium sized audience.
You see, people can resist beauty but they cannot resist charm. When you feel good in your clothes, you feel good in your skin. When you feel good in your skin, the charm hormones flood your system and you become irresistibly magnetic, oozing intelligence in every human to human interaction.
This is why:
Style affects you three ways:
1. Inside out – you decide who you are in your core and dress that person on the surface.
2A. Small Outside radius in – when you dress as you want to, your reinforced core emits endless waves of confidence.
2B. Big Outside radius in – confident people instantaneously attract followers and their counterparts alike as they subconsciously relate on their core level.
And that’s it.
That’s the science, the secret (if there is any), the quintessence of the visual part of public speaking:
Step into your identity and dress your essence to look breathtakingly professional, so that your TED talk will forever stay in the hall of fame, your word will spread faster than a Hollywood gossip, and your bank account will only make you grin.
Recommended set of steps:
1. Define your personal style. You can do it here in just a few short minutes: www.styleandchic.ca/style-personality
2. Find your best colours. Do NOT skip this critical step. www.styleandchic.ca/join-colour-breakthrough
3. Align your best colours for your image with your message.
4. Have your clothes altered. You will find all your style questions answered here: https://styleandchic.ca/style-saviour-join/
5. Hire a personal stylist / image mentor to help you express your magnetic personality and align it with your image. Interested in working with me? Fill in the application here: www.styleandchic.ca/application
Image mentor Karolina Chic doesn’t see the world in black & white. She’s the secret weapon of ambitious public figures, touring authors and public speakers ready to move from coffin chic to custom chic in the blink of her highly-trained colour-focused eye – so they can gain trust and persuade the right audience with their awe-inspiring image.