This is the second of a series of posts about basic things that can help you improve your public speaking. They may sound obvious, but they are a good base that should be in place at the start. The first post is here.
1) Make sure you drink enough water every day.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends about 15.5 cups a day for men and 11.5 cups a day for women. It should be noted that some of the fluids can come from food, which makes sense. Watermelon and spinach, instance, are almost 100% water.
Soda, energy and sports drinks should be used sparingly, though, because of all the sugar they add to your diet.
Why is staying hydrated an important factor in being an effective speaker. There are two basic reasons. The first reason is that dehydration actually tires a body out and makes you feel fatigued. Your tiredness could hurt your presentation and make you less persuasive. After all, if your audience gets the impression that you aren’t excited by what you are saying they may tune you out.
The second reason that dehydration may hurt your presentation is dry mouth, one of the common symptoms of a lack of water. We’ve all experienced the uncomfortable feeling of dry mouth and how distracting it can be. When your mouth is too dry you may have trouble speaking fluently or you may sound hoarse. You also could be distracted by the need to swallow to try to get your salivary to produce more fluid. You also may find yourself smacking your lips to try to ease the discomfort in your mouth.
Needless to say, such distractions will hurt your presentation.
The solution is to stay hydrated at all times. After all, you never know when you may need to speak persuasively. Get used to carrying a water bottle with you, sipping when necessary. And it is perfectly fine for you to have a water bottle on the podium or near you when you are speaking. If you start to feel dry mouth, just take a moment for a sip. The audience will understand.
(Have you ever noticed someone who works out carrying a gallon water bottle around? A gallon is 16 cups, which is the recommended amount for men. My son, who hits the gym regularly, has one that he fills every morning and he makes sure he drinks it all by the end of the day. You may want to keep one of those bottles on hand until you get a good sense of how much water you need to consume. The one he uses is here.)
2) Keep caffeine to a minimum before a presentation.
I used to tell students to avoid caffeine before any planned presentation but I realized that advice was dead on arrival. Many people simply can’t get through a day without their coffee (or in my case, tea).
So now my advice is to avoid caffeine right before you speak. Remember, too much caffeine can cause anxiety and nervousness. Even a little bit may cause rapid breathing and higher stress levels. Needless to say, if you are already nervous about speaking in front of an audience, caffeine-induced jitters aren’t going to help.
How long in advance of a presentation should you put down your coffee cup? I can’t give you an exact time because everybody is different and every body reacts to caffeine different.
This is something you will have to determine through trial and error. Try going without caffeine on the day of your presentation. If total abstention makes you irritable and tired, then maybe you do need some caffeine to be more effective. Try having one cup but hours before the presentation. If that is enough, great. If not, keep trying different amounts and times until the caffeine helps you rather than hurts you. Then stick to that pattern.
3) Avoid alcohol before you speak
Does this need more explanation? Too much alcohol, of course, can make you slur and cause you to forget what you wanted to say. Even a bit of alcohol can lead to errors of judgment, for example making an off-color joke you will later regret (and may even get you fired).
If you know you will be speaking at a business function where alcohol is being served you may be tempted to sample, especially if the booze is free. But keep your eye on the big picture. Is a bit of free alcohol worth hurting your career? No. Being a clear-headed speaker at a business function may even help boost it.
It is harder to avoid having a few at social functions where you are expected to speak, but try to do it anyway. Fortunately, the social pressure to drink seems to have decreased in recent years. If your friends or family members are pressuring you to have some (which they shouldn’t, of course), one thing you can do is discreetly get a glass of caffeine-free cola or ginger ale and let everyone think you have a mixed drink. It would be a little fib but it should ease the pressure.
Fibbing may be wrong, but what if you go ahead and partake too much? Things could end up being much worse.
Here is what happened a few years ago at a wedding reception.
The Best Man had too much to drink and couldn’t even give his speech. A different groomsman, who had also been drinking, volunteered to wing it.
Obviously under the influence, he started by pointing to the groom and saying, “You are a lover, and I was your pimp.”
He explained that he considered himself a ‘pimp’ because he was the one who arranged for the bride and groom to get together.
If he were a pimp, that would make the bride a…?
As you can imagine, all of us at the reception stared in amazement.
After he finished a rambling story about how the bride and groom met and he sat down, the DJ took back the microphone and said, “In all the years I’ve been doing weddings, this is the first time I’ve ever heard the word ‘pimp’ used in a Best Man’s speech.”
The bride later told me that the groomsman, once he realized what he had said, spent the rest of the night embarrassed and babbling apologies to everyone.
You do not want that to be you. Ever.
Avoid the alcohol.