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Media interview skills fundamentals: what to wear

As we''ve discussed in previous articles, studies have found that what a person looks like while delivering a message must be consistent with the message being delivered or it will have a significant impact on how the message is perceived. If a person projects an image of informality in a very formal setting (such as wearing sandals for a meeting with the President at the White House), it will undermine the important messages being communicated. The best example is a person who has a very positive message to communicate, but looks just plain sloppy -- unshaven and wrinkled. What that person says will have far less impact on how the person is perceived that how he presents himself.

Subtly is the important concept to grasp. The goal is to be heard. Anything that could distract a viewer from your message should go back in the closet.

What to wear - Typically, the event will dictate the attire. For instance, if you want to look like you''re working hard, lose the tie and role up your sleeves. If you are outside at an informal event, a polo shirt featuring your organization''s logo might be perfect. Doctors should sling a stethoscope over their shoulder and put on a white coat -- even if they don''t typically dress that way. So, dress your part, projecting a cool, clean-cut professional image. People in creative professions, such as fashion, design and the arts, may get away with a more informal look. For instance, Steve Jobs is the epitome of West Coast chic in a black crew neck, jeans and sneakers.

Most people should simply dress as they would for an important client meeting while still following the basic rules.  Dress in a way that makes you feels confident. Good fit is essential for you to look your best and feel your best, so don''t pull something out the closet that''s from the 20th century. It is hard to go wrong with a classic suit or variation on that. Socks should be long enough to show no leg when seated and while you may go without a jacket, men must never wear a tie with a short-sleeved shirt. If you know you will be seated and seen below the waist, sit in front of a mirror and check your outfit.

Colors - Non primary tones are typically best. For men, a dark suit and blue shirt is preferred. For women, avoid solid black or white patterns. The more pure and saturated a color, the more likely the camera will make the clothing “glow.”  White is okay for a shirt under a jacket; otherwise, off-white is a better choice.

Patterns - We discourage anything with highly contrasting colors. A bold pattern can actually pulsate on camera and distract from the message you''re trying to get across.

Fabrics - Avoid anything shiny, including ties. They can end up looking like plastic or mirrors.

Logos - If the context of the interview is positive and informal (especially if it is outdoors), a shirt with your organization''s logo is fine. However, if you''re likely to face questions about something controversial or negative, avoid having the logo on TV.

Jewelry - Remove jewelry that could hit your microphone, moves or could make noise. Also, keep in mind that large or expensive jewelry can project an image that runs counter to your organization''s image. For instance, if you are representing a charity organization, it''s not a good idea to look like you shop at Saks.

Makeup - Be sure to de-shine. Women may add a little extra color, but be careful not to over-do it. Choose a matte-finish lipstick or blot your lips on a tissue. Men may want to blot or wash their face. One trick is to drug and discount store to get a compact with colorless “translucent pressed powder” and/or a package of special oil-blotting tissues. Keep these in your desk. Anyone with less than a full head of hair should pay special attention to potential shine areas.

Hair - Get it under control. If you are in studio lighting, thin hair will be more obvious, and that includes styles that are teased, wispy or puffed up with product. Avoid hair products that add shine.

Self assessment - One of the comments we hear most often following DPK Public Relations'' Media Interview Skills Training is how surprised people are about what they look like on television. They crinkle up their eyebrows and scratch their nose without ever thinking about it. Their eyes wander all over the place and they frown while listening to questions. One of the best things you can do to get a read on how you look before a media interview is to get or make a video of yourself and then watch it with the sound off. Don’t be hypercritical, just look for distractions.

Dan Keeney
(832) 467-2904
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Author: Dan Keeney
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