"Did you bring a belt?"
That's the first thing the AV person always asks me before a presentation. They're often a little concerned and slightly confused when it's time to put the microphone on.
Because, unless you're speaking from a podium or holding a hand-held microphone, speakers need to attach a small black battery pack somewhere on their body to connect to the microphone. This pack clips easily to suit pants, a belt or can even sit nicely in a sport coat pocket.
I have none of those things when I speak. I'm a woman who wears dresses to present. I like how they look, I like how they make me feel, and if I am going to stand in front of a roomful of people, I'm going to feel my best.
Men often dominate the stage, but more and more women are speaking up. Here are a few important, though often overlooked, public speaking items for women to consider that men don't even have to think about:
1. Choose your footwear wisely.
Early in my career as a speaker, I watched a video of a man giving a keynote. His content and message were good, but what really captivated me was how easily he moved about the stage.
It was effortless; a stark contrast to a video I'd recently reviewed of myself wobbling about in front of a room. He was wearing loafers. I was wearing platforms.
Non-verbal communication is a powerful force, and unsteady feet communicate an unsteady person. Platforms may work for date night, but if you can't walk across a stage without looking like a baby deer, the shoes have to go.
That's not to say don't wear heels. I only speak in heels. They make me feel powerful. Just make sure the shoe you wear supports the person you are (literally and figuratively).
2. Leave the bling at home.
I once found myself watching a woman at a conference and while she was very engaging, I was distracted by an unidentified sound. Eventually, we realized: It was her statement necklace rubbing against the microphone clipped to her collar.
The AV team had to stop her in the middle of her presentation to remove her necklace. It was embarrassing for the speaker and interrupted what was otherwise a great presentation.
3. A little lining goes a long way.
The stage is a notoriously bright place to be, especially if you're presenting for a large audience. This can cause a problem for women that men never have to consider.
I recently heard a story of a woman who stepped on stage in a gorgeous white ensemble. She looked stunning. However, as she walked into the lighting, her outfit went from white to sheer.
Be aware of your clothing choices. Feel your best, but only show what you want them to see.
4. Most important, be yourself.
Many of my speaking role models are men, but emulating their speaking style often leaves me feeling inauthentic. Fortunately, some exciting initiatives are in place to get more women on panels and in front of the room sharing their ideas -- which gives women more examples to follow.
Regardless of who you follow, the best person to be on stage is yourself. The highest compliment I ever received followed my first presentation after I realized that I needed to use my humor, my mannerisms, my stories -- not someone else's. A fellow speaker said, "I've never seen someone be so herself up there." That was the day my speaking career launched.
The final tip: What to do about the microphone... Though I'll never wear a belt, I always wear a dress with a zipper down the back and my bra fastened on the tightest clasp. Turns out, that's an excellent place to hook a mic pack.