How to dress for a conference talk
We've heard that many technical women are uncertain about how to dress for conference presentations. Unfortunately, all-male panels and speaker lineups mean that some women lack examples of female conference attire. If you're the only woman presenter, it's hard to know whether you're dressed correctly.
Stepping on stage can be nerve-wracking: hundreds of eyes stare back at you, silently waiting. This is the moment to summon your inner confidence and pretend you're the Notorious R.B.G.. It isn't the time to worry that your outfit is uncomfortable or inappropriate.
The good news is that it's easy to dress appropriately for a tech conference keynote, panel, or talk. Presenters typically wear nice versions of their normal work attire. This might mean a t-shirt for an engineer, a button-down for a professor, or a blazer for a senior manager. Anything within that range will be considered appropriate, as long as the clothing is clean and neat.
Check out a few role models below, and scroll to the end to read our top tips for dressing comfortably on stage.
Example conference talks
We dug through recent conference recordings to show you the range of attire at major technical conferences. We selected role model presentations from Google I/O, USENIX Enigma, and ACM CHI. Make sure to click through to watch these talks -- all of these women are badasses in their fields.
Jeans and shirts
Many conference presenters stick with jeans and shirts. It's common to see corporate t-shirts and hoodies that advertise a product or team, like Hsiu Wang's Google Research shirt.
Blouses and blazers
For a slightly more formal approach, presenters dress up dark jeans with blouses, blazers, and cardigans.
Dresses, suits, and slacks
The most formal attire is usually reserved for keynotes, executives, and other high-scrutiny presentations. Dresses can be challenging with mic packs, but Marissa Mayer pulls it off.
Top tips for comfort
A comfortable presenter commands the audience's attention. There are a few things you can do to be more comfortable on stage:
- If you'll be wearing a microphone, wear clothes that can hold a mic pack and/or lapel mic. A mic pack requires a rear waistband or pockets, and your shirt collar needs to be strong enough to support a lapel mic without sagging.
- Wear your hair in a style that doesn't cover your face.
- If you're short, pack heels in case the podium is tall enough to block you from view. Alternately, stand next to the podium instead of behind it so that you aren't hidden.
- Wear a color that contrasts with the background. For example, don't wear a black sweater in front of a black stage. Black-on-black doesn't film well if you're being recorded.
- Check that your earrings work with the mic. Earrings commonly clank against mic headsets, especially if they are hoops or drop earrings. If you can't check in advance, be prepared to take your earrings off when you clip the mic on.
Good luck! You'll do great.