This week, the sport of horse racing will hold the Preakness, the second leg of its Triple Crown Series. I have covered the Preakness for 30 years. A few years back I had the chance to cover the Belmont. And this year, for the first time, I covered the Kentucky Derby. My own Triple Crown!
Seeing each of these events up close, reminds me of how important context is when asked one of the most frequent questions I get regarding presentations: What do I wear for this presentation?
The answer depends on the context.
The Kentucky Derby, The Preakness, and The Belmont are all horse races. They are all Triple Crown horse races, but they are not all the same context.
At the Preakness, you might wear a great hat, an expensive outfit, and new shoes—if you are going to the corporate village. But if you’re going to the infield for the concerts and the mayhem you wouldn’t dare wear that outfit because you would look totally out of place.
At the Belmont, people dress nice but not the the nines. It’s more of a business casual affair.
And at the Kentucky Derby you can’t overdress. You can’t wear something too loud our outlandish, but you can underdress. Go to the Derby in a pair of khakis, a polo shirt, and sneakers and you’ll look like you arrived from another planet. What were you thinking? You see at the Derby they dress up, way up, even in the infield.
Business Presentations Vary As Much as Triple Crown Races
Business presentations are a lot like the Triple Crown. It isn’t about always—or never—wearing a suit and tie or dress and hat. It’s about the context.
In Baltimore, if you wore a KFC bucket decorated with horses as a hat, you would fit in fine in the infield, but probably not in the high ticket areas. At the Derby, as long as the rest of your clothes are smart, you can pull that look off because of the context: you can’t over dress and you can’t dress too outlandishly.
Go-To Wardrobe Might Not Serve You
Too many presenters have their go-to outfits, the ones they always wear, no matter where they present. While that approach makes it easier to get ready, I’ll give you that, it also runs the risk of looking like the woman wearing one-of-a-kind custom made hat in the infield of the Preakness.
She would look completely out of place. But in Louisville, at the Derby, she looks perfectly in place.
The Questions Behind the Question
The answer to the question, “What should I wear to give this presentation?” should actually begin with a few other questions:
- What is the context of the presentation?
- Is this a casual audience or is this a conservative, formal organization?
- What is the culture of this event or organization?
- What is my personal brand as a presenter?
You’ll find the answer to what is best lies within the boundaries of those four questions.
You matter. The event matters. The audience matters.
More isn’t always better. Less isn’t always worse.
It just depends on whether you are at the business version of the Derby, the Preakness, or the Belmont?