Style tips for speakers

It’s lovely to welcome Lucy Clayton to the blog. She’s kindly agreed to share valuable advice about dress for speakers – what works and what doesn’t. Not only she is a total expert when it comes to style, but she knows first hand what it’s like to stand on the infamous red dot. (Her talk currently has over 60,000 views on

Also, as I write this more and more conferences are making their event happen virtually. So be sure to check out her tips for presenting from home in question 3!

1) Having watched a lot of TED talks (in the lead up to your own!) what did you notice about what does and doesn’t work so well clothing wise? 

It’s important that you look like yourself, there’s no point turning up unrecognisable. Now is not the time to experiment with a radical new look. Consider the background (for TED it’s often very dark) and make sure you’re wearing something that doesn’t disappear into the shadows. Simple silhouettes, block colours and unfussy details all really work. You want to avoid an outfit that detracts from your words or your delivery – you’re doing the talking not the clothes.

Giving a TED talk is one of the most terrifying things imaginable. It doesn’t matter how confident you are in real life, how much you usually enjoy public speaking or how extrovert you are – none of that protects you from the raw fear of standing on the red dot. So you have to arm yourself as best you can, through brilliant writing, whole-hearted rehearsal AND in your outfit. I am a huge believer in clothes as armour. The way we present ourselves can convey many powerful and nuanced messages but it can also make us feel different. Working from home in your PJs has a very different feeling to putting on your best party dress. So for me, planning my TED outfit was more about how it made me feel (and therefore behave) than how it would be received. I wanted to dress in a way that felt strong, authoritative and had flair. It’s worse if you’re speaking about fashion (as I was) because people expect you to look the part. There are not many things I’m good at but getting dressed is definitely one of them – and even so, I panicked over this outfit (I even refer to that in the talk). I remember choosing between 25 different belts, obsessed with finding the right one. My Father said “do you think this belt thing is a displacement activity – surely you should be spending this time memorising your words?” I was in a shop at the time, bought my last belt and that’s the one I wore. No one other than me will have even glanced at the belt, I’d totally lost perspective by that point.

Obviously what you wear is secondary to the content of your talk but planning your outfit can definitely help you feel prepared and it’s useful to be able to visualise yourself in the full get-up, on stage.

2) Based on your own experience of putting together your outfit for your talk, what advice would you have for speakers who are going to be filmed speaking onstage?

  • Be clean. Look like you give a shit (make an effort).
  • You have to feel comfortable, but not loungewear level comfortable. Something with structure, that makes you stand straight vs slouch is good. This is a ridiculously artificial situation and you are on show, so it’s okay to dress UP for it. But don’t wear anything so far out of your comfort zone that it makes you fiddle with your neckline or hoick up your trousers.
  • Wear shoes you feel solid in. I need extra height to feel confident so I wore vertiginous cigarette heels but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that  (challenging on a fluffy carpet). Choose something that’s smart, stable and if they’re new make sure you wear them in a bit first.
  • Dress Rehearse: for a really big gig make sure you’ve practiced in the exact outfit. Get someone to film it for you. Can you see your bra through your top? Does the outfit behave when you get animated and gesture wildly? Are you going to blend into the background in that colour? It’s no good if your outfit looks perfect standing static in front of the mirror, it has to perform on the day too.
  • Consider the silhouette. You’ll be mostly viewed from afar, and even on film the shape is important. Tailoring helps here, it’s good to define your form.
  • Don’t wear noisy things (I once interviewed someone who was wearing a tech-fabric tracksuit for a podcast & he sounded like he was in a storm) – avoid anything that rustles and strip back any jangly jewellery.

3) We are likely to be seeing more and more talks delivered virtually. What would be your top style tips for speakers who may be delivering the talk sat in front of their laptop?

  • Adjust the camera position. Glowering down into a laptop isn’t anyone’s best angle.
  • Fill the frame. It’s your face we’re here to see so don’t be shy.
  • It’s fine to be casual from the waist down, but look professional up top.
  • No one is expecting full Nancy Pelosi powersuit when we’re all working from home, the rules are relaxed. I’ve personally spent this week in isolation, in dungarees and LOTS of inappropriate jewellery to lift the spirits.

4) As an experienced speaker and podcast host, what’s something you’ve learned in the past year (that could help other speakers)? 

For me, the best and most surprising thing about doing a TED talk is that afterwards you realise that nothing can make you nervous anymore. Things that used to frighten me just don’t register now. The other wonderful thing about it is it’s the ultimate test of your tone of voice – you have just 15 minutes and every word, every inflection counts. It’s made me more confident about my personal tone of voice and that’s something I’ve carried into both my podcast projects and my book (How To Go To Work, Penguin 2020).

Ultimately, I’ve learnt that we are all at our best when we are sharing stories – all information can be conveyed through storytelling and the more honest, human and heartfelt we are about that the more things resonate.

Lucy Clayton is passionate about discovering and mentoring talent. She is author of How To Go To Work (Penguin) the essential guide for anyone starting out in their career (2020). As former CEO of Community Clothing, a social enterprise with a mission to sustain and create jobs in the UK textile industry, she was honoured in the Financial Times and HERoes inaugural list of top 50 ‘Champions of Women in Business 2017’. She is the founder and host of DRESS:FANCY, the hit podcast series exploring fashion, fantasy and fancy dress and her TED talk “The True Power of a Good Outfit” can be seen on

Instagram: @mslucyclayton

Twitter: @mslucyclayton

Book Podcast:

Podcast: Dress:Fancy (and Instagram @dressfancypodcast)