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Common advice is that a good rule to follow is that of always trying to be at least somewhat better dressed than your audience. I don’t think this is bad advice, but I also think it misses the point.
When it comes to giving attention to someone who is making a presentation, people like to be able to relate to a presenter and they like to think that they could be good friends with the presenter if circumstance were to allow. However, they also want to believe that a presenter is somebody special.
Usually, it is even more important to an audience that a presenter be “special”, than it is for the presenter to be someone whom they think could be a friend. (I am not advocating the idea of a performer being aloof. I am only emphasizing the reality that audiences want a person on stage to be “special“.) Think about how people get excited over the idea of seeing someone whom is known to be a “star”. Consider the popularity of magazines like PEOPLE and US and the interest most humans have in celebrities. People like to be exposed to other people who are deemed to be unusual, heroic, or uniquely skilled and/or talented.
Your appearance needs to suggest that you have something worthwhile and even exciting to offer. Dressing as if you are “one of the audience” may make it difficult for the audience to take you seriously. If you look no different or better than your audience, it is easy for them to assume that you don’t have anything to share that is different from what they already know…so why should they give you their attention?
The goal is to convey the idea that you do have something interesting to offer and that you do possess a particular expertise.
To state the matter plainly; there is nothing wrong with looking like a “star”. It is contrary to the teaching of Christianity to be egotistical and vain, but this is not that. It is possible to have a humble heart while employing wisdom to attract an audience. This would fit with the challenge of Jesus Christ in Matthew 10:16 “be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves”.
To a large degree people will treat you in accordance with what you appear to be. If you look like an amateur, they will treat you like an amateur. If you are dressed in a manner that reflects a casual attitude, people will respond to you with a casual attitude. On the other hand, if you make an effort to look like you belong on stage, you will find that your programs are received with more respect. (If, at the present, you feel like people do not properly respect what you do, it may be because of how you dress).
This is why it is wise to take time to find out how most people in your audience will be dressed and then do something that will, in a reasonable and credible manner, distinguish you from the rest of the crowd and make you look “special”.
In doing this remember that there is no one kind of costume that works for all occasions. Various venues require a variety of “looks”.
- If you are performing for a church picnic in the summer and everyone else is wearing t-shirt and jeans, you might wear a fancy shirt with long sleeves, or you might go with a colorful vest over a dress shirt.
- There is no need to wear a tuxedo or suit coat outdoors in hot weather, but there is a need to look like the person who is there to do something different from what everyone else is doing.
- If you are performing for a youth event where the kids will be wearing whatever kids consider popular at the moment, you might look at what popular singers and actors are wearing at the time and consider something similar to that. Often a long sleeved shirt that is a solid bright color works well for youth events. A bonus is when the shirt has a bit of glitter or “flash” to it.
- If you are performing for a Sunday evening service where some will be in suits, but many will be in slacks and shirts, you might choose to wear a suit coat with a flashy tie, or a sport coat that has a unique and appealing color.
- If you are performing at a corporate event where everyone will be dressed nicely (men in suits, ladies in dresses), you might choose to wear a tuxedo, or your best suit with a unique tie, or a specially made costume.
- If you are on stage at a theater or performing in a setting that is intended to be a show that will attract a secular crowd you can bring out garments with a really showy look to them, maybe even a coat with rhinestones or spangles on it.
- Normally clothes that are truly showy should be reserved for occasions when what you are doing is designed to be a strong “show” type event.
This isn’t a hard thing to understand. Give yourself the advantage of looking like you have something special to offer. Do this by dressing at least one step up from what is normally appropriate for the occasion and then adding to your “look” something fun and/or fancy. If you look like a hobbyist, you will be viewed as a hobbyist. If you look like a professional, you will be viewed as a professional. If you look like an entertainer, you will be viewed as an entertainer. It is the way life works!
If we look like we know what we are doing, and if we are good at what we do, we are likely to gain a kind of celebrity status. This is not bad. Being viewed as a celebrity may provide extra opportunity to be heard when we speak. However this opportunity brings with it spiritual dangers. It calls for us to especially guard against pride, self-centeredness, and arrogance.