Dress for Success

Last week I blogged on Leading a Great Meeting. Giving a successful presentation can be part of this. As you continue your leadership journey, it is likely you will give more presentations and each one puts your leadership on display.

At first, your audience is the people you work with, whether it’s a lesson you are delivering, speaking to grade, or working with subject level teachers. Over time, your audience will grow, and you won’t know everyone in attendance. Beyond the 5 “P’s” from last week’s blog (to ensure the content, structure, and format will be powerful), you need to look professional. Like it or not, as soon as we step up to make the presentation, the audience will judge us.

Participants make assessments about our knowledge even before we speak. How can we have our audience see us in the best possible light? Although it may sound superficial, dress makes a statement that sets the tone for how we and our message are perceived.

If this is something you’re unsure about, Nick Morgan offers these five tips in What Should a Speaker Wear in 2023?:

  1. Dress slightly better than the audience – If you have ever attended a conference, you may have observed the vendor representatives dress better than attendees. They are making a sales pitch and are dressing to show competence. So are you when you make a presentation.
  2. Dress to fulfill your brand – This is a bit tricky, and you may not want to concern yourself about this tip. The last thing you want to look like is the stereotypical librarian. Think about your audience, what they might expect, and what might make the strongest impression. For example, if your expertise is around building advocates, an appropriate pin might work.
  3. Dress to feel wonderful – Wearing a great outfit changes how we feel and, by extension, how we present ourselves. Select clothes that are not only appropriate but that make you feel terrific and you will send a more upbeat and approachable vibe. Remember to be aware of your surroundings. If you are presenting on a large platform, Stone cautions you to consider whether the lights might make an article of clothing more transparent.
  4. Dress to look good against the backdrop –If possible, find out in advance what you will be standing in front of. If it’s a black background, you don’t want to be wearing black. And if you’re working in front of a green screen for some reason… remember not to wear green! Also remember, many presentations are recorded. When people are watching that later, you want them to be able to see you.
  5. Dress for the moment – After so many Zoom meetings where everyone became more casual in their dress, Stone believes there will be a move toward elegance. Whether or not that prediction is correct, this is a great time to wear a presentation piece of jewelry if you are a woman (not distracting but noticeable) or a bold tie if you are a man. Enjoy the chance to stand out.

My own recommendation is to take this in the spirit of fun. You want to be bringing new possibilities to the audience. If you choose your presentation wardrobe as an exciting part or to reflect you, your joy in the moment will be communicated. Making presentations can be out of your comfort zone. Dressing in a way that makes you feel comfortable and empowered can be a great first step when taking this leadership move.


Presenting – You!

Leaders take risks. One of the scariest risks for beginning and seasoned leaders alike is making a presentation before an audience. But eventually you’ll have to do it. It’s how you extend others’ awareness of your value to the teachers and students. Unfortunately, Social Phobia—fear of social situations that can result in judgement, rejection or shame—is the topmost common fear.

So what can you do? Start small and with a familiar audience. Your first presentation may be to your fellow teachers. You know them and what they need to discover so they can be more successful at what they do. You’ve been showing them, one-on-one, how you support them. Now you are just opening it up.

Next level up may be to a parents’ group. While you don’t know them individually as you did with your colleagues, they will come to your presentation because they realize a gap in their knowledge you can fill, and you can show them ways to support their students. Sharing your expertise with them makes them more aware of what you bring to their kids every day.

Presenting to your state school library association or a national one is probably the scariest. Here you are speaking to your colleagues. A part of you may feel as though they know more than you and what are you doing there. (Ah, the ‘joys’ of Imposter Syndrome). Remind yourself a committee selected your proposal. They recognized you have something valuable to offer. Keep that in mind as you begin.

For all levels of presentation, preparation counts, and preparation includes your mindset. In addition to the content, you are presenting yourself—and that means you as a leader and the value of your program. Kevin Eikenberry describes how you can do this in Showing Up When It’s Your Time. Here are his tips:

Showing Up Aware -You are aware of the purpose of your presentation but think bigger. It may be a bigger opportunity than you realized. Something you say may spark a huge idea in someone in your audience. This might lead to a larger possibility, whether it’s a collaborative project with a teacher, a parent who now would like to create a library advocacy group, or it inspires an article or blog by you.

Showing Up Prepared – You want to be comfortable with the topic as well as how you plan to bring it. Technology blips (zoom, power point, internet connectivity) and questions going in an unexpected direction are always challenging and do occur. If you have a firm grip on your presentation and the material, you will respond confidently when the unanticipated occurs.

Showing Up at Our Best – Being rested and having eaten, as Eikenberry recommends, are a good start. Also, think about yourself and what makes you feel your best. You are likely to dress up for your presentation, but are you comfortable with what you are wearing? If you’re going to be standing for a long period, think about the shoes you’re choosing. If you may be photographed, think about the colors you’re wearing. This probably is not the day to try a new look. Don’t give yourself something else to worry about.

Showing Up Expectantly – Expect to succeed. An athlete going into a game expects to win. They may see themselves making a great play or crossing the finish line first. A positive mindset at the outset relaxes your body and makes you more engaging to your audience.

Showing Up Early – Always! This helps on so many levels. If you cut it too close, you will be agitated rather than relaxed when you arrive. You will have little time to “show up prepared” for those little glitches in plans. Also, arriving early allows you to mingle and talk with participants so that when you begin, they are already open to listening to you and you are already comfortable and familiar with them.

The hardest part of making presentations is getting started, but taking the risk is worth it. In the opening of the article Eikenberry quotes Woody Allen as saying, “90% of life is just showing up.” The idea is not to just show up, but to show off—your skills, your program, your leadership. And once you have a few successes under your belt, you’ll be ready for bigger stages in the future!