What to Wear…to a Presentation

I have the good fortune to meet many people who are driving change in their field. Fashion transcends industry, it is a tool for self expression, a reflection of status, ambition and a means of creating a very public image.  I sat down with Sherry Orel, the witty, smart and stylish CEO of Brand Connections, to chat about her life at the top of her game, and to find out how fashion plays a role in her life as the leader of an innovative marketing agency.

Sherry Website.jpg

PW: How often do you give a presentation?  
SO: I present to clients on a weekly basis.  I speak at conferences, board meetings or in front of other large groups one to two times each quarter. I present to clients, staff, board members, industry leaders.

PW: When you give a presentation, what is the most important thing that you want people to take away? 
SO:  Authority, credibility, intelligence, aspirational, inspirational. 

PW: How do you like to dress for a presentation?  
SO: I don’t think women need to dress like men to be successful in business, so I take a feminine, tasteful, professional approach.  I try to look high-end but not designer snob, and use a strategy of mixing expensive things with inexpensive things to pull a more premium look together (like an expensive necklace with a dress sub $200, Prada shoes with slacks from Chico’s, etc.). 

PW: Is color a factor that you consider?  
SO: Yes. Bold colors are dramatic and great in small quantities. I select one item as the “bold” factor in an outfit, and stay more conservative in other areas.  If I’m wearing my 8-carat Tanzanite ring, I skip the bracelet.  If I’m wearing giant hoop earrings, I skip the necklace.  If I’m wearing a bold scarf, no belt, etc.  Too much “bling” is distracting and takes away from the message.  I want to be viewed as smart AND well put together professional, not just a well-put together woman.  

PW: Do you have any considerations when dressing? For example do you consider where the lavaliere will be placed?  
SO: I had to look up the word “lavaliere”, so I guess this “smart” thing isn’t working out for me so well…but yes, I don’t wear necklaces unless they are a length comfortable to me.  I almost always wear heels because I find being taller has helped create an air of authority, as when I can look a man or woman that’s 5’10” in the eye, it levels the playing field.  High heels are also viewed by many people, especially women, as being “difficult” or “impossible”, so having trained myself to actually be comfortable in 4” heels makes me feel invincible and is a psychological signal to myself and others that I embrace and can master difficult tasks.  

PW: Are there are “good choices” or “poor choices” that you think about when deciding what to wear?  
SO: Yes, anything that creates a first impression that is not consistent with your desired outcome is a bad choice.  For example, cleavage and “peek-a-boo” lacy bras are respected by neither men nor women professionally.  If you’re going to add a little appropriate, feminine sexiness, pick one thing at a time.  If you’re going sleeveless, the hemline should be slightly longer.  If you’re going above the knee, a higher chest line is appropriate.

PW: What would be your best advice to someone who is about to present on stage for the first time?
SO: Sit in something before you buy it.  Imagine yourself on a stage as part of a panel perched on one of those awful bar stools they always use with the crossbar/foot bar positioned too low to accommodate most women’s leg length, so rather than have your legs dangle like you’re a 4 year old, you’re forced to sit on the edge of your seat to reach it and hope you don’t tip forward.  Now cross your legs, balancing all your weight carefully on the one foot that barely reaches the foot bar, and then see what happens to the cellulite on your thighs when your skirt shortens by the 4 inches it does when you sit with your legs crossed.  Now imagine the event photographer taking that shot and posting on the event’s Facebook page.  Good times…

PW: Sherry, you are as witty as you are fabulous and of course smart. You are an inspiration not as a woman, but as a person who is successful and seems to manage to pull all the pieces of your life together. We have talked a lot about your fashion choices, but as we know, fashion is not the be all and end all, it is a means of expression and in this case a tool to support your on-stage presence. Do you have any parting wisdom that we can share with women who are starting out in their careers?
SO: Words Matter.  Just because you CAN doesn’t mean you should (I often use this referring to fashion), life is like a pendulum so swing big, and so very many more…

For more insightful thoughts, ideas and a window into Sherry’s vision as a CEO check out her company blog [http://brandconnections.com/#blog] where she is a frequent contributor.