Guide: Colours to wear during a presentation

“Appearance is not a Design. Design is the way it works” 

-Steve Jobs

We hardly get a second chance at making a first impression. And what is the first thing people see when they notice us? Our appearance. More specifically, our clothes. The colours we wear while at any important occasions, such as giving a presentation, convey magnitudes about us. 

For presentations, while pastels are one one side of the spectrum, cool hues and Black are on the extreme opposite. You’re safe to place your bet on these two. However, there is a lot of scope for experimentation in the middle. 

Colours are not only visual, they also elicit specific emotional responses. Depending on what you want them (your audience) to feel, you can choose warm, cool, bright, or dull shades.

Significance of colours

There is a whole branch of psychology that studies the effects of different tones and hues on the human mind and subsequent behaviour. Yes! The colours you wear can have an impact beyond just impressing your audience or looking good.

Types of colours with the psychology behind them

The language of colors comes from the system of symbolism. Each color is a symbol of something it elicits, something it indicates, how it makes you feel. Following is the list of what each colour signifies/ is associated with.

Red

Red is, as we all know, associated most commonly with danger, alertness, and cautiousness. You can wear it when you want to catch and hold your audiences’ attention.  

Blue

Blue is traditionally known to be the calmer of the lot. It’s associated with tranquility, serenity, and peace. Wear it when you want to establish a level of trust with your audience. 

Green

Green is a very emotive colour, it’s warm and encouraging. It also indicates a sense of correctness and ‘GO’ sign because of our association with traffic lights. Wear this when you want to encourage interaction and discussion from the audience. 

Yellow

It is fairly attention grabbing colour. It falls on the loud side of the spectrum. But it’s also warm and cheery. A slightly bold choice, but yellow it is proven to stimulate mental activity and enhance memory. 

Purple

Along with loyalty and luxury, Purple is linked to being exotic and creative. Again, depending on the shade you choose, it can be a bold choice. But as long as you pair it with the right accessories, you’re good to go. 

Black

It’s a classic. Black is associated with sternness, extreme formality, authority and sophistication. Black does a great job of establishing your dominance in the mind of the audience. Makes you look powerful, when styled correctly. It also has a lot of scope to be paired with accessories. 

Apart from this primary palette, pastels and lighter hues are associated with simplicity, innocence, openness and most importantly, they are very soothing. You can wear them when you don’t want to draw too much attention. 

Different shades and materials of professional clothing

What to ask yourself while picking the right colour?

Now that you have the knowledge of associations, we hope you’re better equipped with making your decision. However, there is a lot more to consider before you finally arrive at one colour. There are a bunch of questions you must ask yourself to make the right decision: 

What is the purpose of this presentation?

Is it a business meeting where you need to crack a deal? A presentation to make a pitch to a client? Is it a guest lecture that you have to deliver? Depending on the purpose of your presentation, you can choose your attire, and hence, the colour. If it is a very formal get together, then sticking with formal clothing like suits and blazers would be the right choice. 

Remember, choosing what to wear can help you narrow down your options of colors to choose from. 

When it comes to official purposes, sticking to formal clothing with colours like pastel pink, dark pursian blue, or black would be a safe bet. 

However, if it’s something informal, like if the presentation is for entertainment purposes, then you can experiment with wearing slightly colourful clothes like orange or yellow, or even prints with two shades.

What time of the day is it when you’re giving the presentation?

Depending on the time of the day, your colour selection would vary too. During day time, it is suggested to wear lighter colours. 

That means ivory, beige, pastels, or even white. That’s because the natural light of the day sort of compliments and lifts these tones. 

In contrast (pun intended), darker shades like brown, black, royal jewel colours (emerald green,etc), or red elevate your presence to a whole nother level during night time, since there are more sources of light intended to focus on you.

Where is the presentation taking place? (Location and lighting)

The location of the presentation matters more than you’d think. Is it happening indoors or outdoors? Is it in a conference room or a private rooftop restaurant? 

If indoors, sobre or plain colours would be effective (as mentioned above). However, if the presentation is taking place outdoors, you can experiment a little with taking your outfit up a notch and wearing orange or yellow, or even one slightly loud colour with subtle prints. 

(Do this only if the environment has scope of being slightly informal, or the industry you work in demands it, like fashion)

What personality suits what colour? 

Although there is no saying that there are watertight compartments of the colour you must wear if you’re a particular personality type, it’s a basic logic game. 

Extroverts, or more sociable and outgoing people are capable of carrying bright, loud colours better as opposed to people who are not.

official meeting, red colour popping out.

This is because of their jolly nature, their strong interactive personality overpowers their persona, hence grabbing more attention than the colours they wear.

Introverts, on the other hand, can carry planer shades like mint green, sky blue, peach, and lavender exceptionally well. 

Personality types come across in people’s body language. Introverts are usually more contained and composed, hence wearing subtle colours makes them appear more ‘no-nonsense’ and in their element. 

Shades of grey, beige, and brown are some colours that suit everyone irrespective of their style and personality. 

Does my skin tone matter in choosing what colour to wear?

Absolutely! Pale skin can carry off cool tones like blue, purple, and green well. And warm colours like brown, shades of orange and yellow can be carried better by people with dusky tones. 

lighter shades paired with darker skin tones

You must choose what flatters and compliments your own skin tone the best. 

Does gender matter in choosing colours to wear?

The answer is yes. While there are no water tight compartments here, men are relatively more restricted to a colour palette than women. This is simply because of the clothing material they wear.

While women can experiment with rich colours like honey topaz or jade, it is because women in the professional world are seen wearing silk blouses (which carry these colours really well) as opposed to men who are limited to a range of clothing that can carry off a limited range of colours.

Nevertheless, in recent times, men are seen growing out of the traditional charcoal blacks and navy blues, and experimenting with salmon and baby pink. Having said that, it’s 2021. Gender is the last of the parameters restricting you.

Does colour matter for an online presentation?

It does, but not so much. Just make sure you don’t wear full white or anything too bold since on a video, your frame is already limited, so you don’t need to use colour to draw your audiences’ attention.

You may try patterns, but again, nothing too bold like large geometric patterns. You don’t want your audience to get distracted by your clothes. Colours appear different when in person. It would be advisable to get an opinion of a friend about how it looks on screen before you sit for an online presentation.

Now that most of the important questions are out of the way, here’s a list of extra tips that’ll help you get your colours just right!

Extra Tips for experimenting with your colours for a presentation!

  • When experimenting with contrasting, try to choose colours from the same tonal family. It looks more professional. 
  • Keep in touch with the trends. Recently, there has been a widespread use of monochrome. (same colour or slightly different shades of the same colour)
  • If you want to add prints, try smaller, subtler prints as opposed to big, in-your-face designs. Again, it appears more professional during presentations. 
  • Do not pair a warm tone with a cold one.
  • While wearing all white or all black, make sure you choose the same shade for top and bottom. Yes, there are shades to black and white as well. 

And that’s all, I believe if you keep in mind all the above tips and points, you’re all set to make some smart decisions that are going to establish your influence very strongly during any presentation you take up. 

Hrideep Barot is the founder and chief writer at Frantically Speaking, a portal to help people learn everything about public speaking. The purpose of franticallyspeaking.com is to showcase the lessons that he has learned (and still learning) from his numerous stage experiences and mentors over all these years.