Whenever I participate in a speech contest, I learn something new and valuable. This was the case with last night’s Division F Speech Contest.
When I started this speech contest season, I decided to try an experiment. I decided to speak without a suit. I have worn suits at every contest since my first one 15 years ago. I wondered if suits separated me from the audience. When a person dresses better than the audience, that person appears as an expert or authority figure. That person appears superior and elevated from the rest of the crowd. The risk of a suit is that a speaker can feel like he or she is talking to the audience instead of talking with them. So, I would try and see if I could connect more with the audience if I dressed more like them.
Not wearing “the uniform” did help me feel more connected with the audience. I also appreciated have more freedom of movement without contending with the bulkiness of a suit jacket. Looking at what other people wore, I thought I looked better in a dress shirt and slacks than an ill-fitting suit and a poorly tied tie. When I won in both categories in the area contest, it seemed like my experiment was validated. So, I wore the same outfit at the division contest.
After I came in second at the Table Topics contest, one of the judges told me that it was my outfit that probably kept me from higher awards. I had worn my clothes all day at work before the contest, and my slacks had gotten wrinkled. She said, “Even if they deducted only two points from your appearance score, that may have been enough to cost you an award.” Indeed, the winner of the Table Topics contest was impeccably dressed in a crisp, well fitting dark suit. He even had two gold earrings that fit perfectly with his outfit.
My experiment showed me that clothes really do make the person. The outfit one wears sends a clear message about the person’s professionalism and authority. Dressing well can give a person an edge over the competition. And wearing a suit doesn’t necessarily separate a speaker from the audience. In fact, wearing something attractive can help the audience focus on the speaker.
So, the next time I compete in a speech contest, I will wear a suit. I better lose some weight first, though.