How To Dress For Television And Speeches

This is the first in a week-long series that will teach you how to dress, apply makeup, and wear your hair for media interviews and public appearances. You can see the complete series here.

If you’re a spokesperson for a company or organization long enough, you can expect to appear on television, in a video, or in front of a live audience at some point. And there’s no escaping the fact that your physical appearance is a critical part of your message in those settings.

“People do judge you during the first few seconds,” author Lillian Brown notes in Your Public Best: The Complete Personal Appearance and Media Training Guide. “If your appearance is attractive, you can get an audience on your side before you have even said a word.”

For this week’s blog posts, we consulted experts who have helped Hollywood stars, First Ladies and scores of other high-profile personalities look good on television.

Richard Nixon Sweating in 1960 Debate

We’ll concentrate on television, because that’s the most demanding medium – but most of the general concepts also translate to videos and public speaking.

What makes television special? The bright lights and camera lenses render things differently from the way we perceive them in real life. The consequences can be devastating: few can recall what Richard Nixon said in the first televised presidential debate with John F. Kennedy, but plenty of people remember that Nixon (who refused to wear makeup) looked pallid and ill-shaven and was visibly sweating, while Kennedy looked poised and comfortable. What’s especially striking is that people who only heard their words on the radio thought Nixon had won; those who watched the men on television reached the opposite conclusion.

Most television appearances today last just a few minutes (or mere seconds), so you don’t want your physical appearance to distract viewers. But keep a couple of things in mind as you read the guidelines over the next few days:

1. Congruence With Brand: It’s crucial that your look is congruent with your brand. If you’re representing a cutting-edge fashion house, don’t dress like a scientist (unless it’s the latest hipster look!), and vice versa.

2. Look Like Yourself: You should end up looking like yourself, with minor adjustments. Only if you’re comfortable with your appearance will you be able to successfully put it out of your mind and radiate the self-confidence that will underscore your message.

In general, your wardrobe, makeup and hair-do should be simple and understated, so they don’t distract from the most expressive part of your face – your eyes – or from your words. In other words, avoid the Tammy Faye Bakker look if you want to be taken seriously.

Tomorrow we’ll cover attire; Wednesday will be devoted to make-up; Thursday to hair; and Friday to hands, accessories and special considerations for high-definition cameras.


Many of these tips were used with permission from Your Public Best: The Complete Personal Appearance and Media Training Guide by Lillian Brown. Published by Newmarket Press.