Dealing With Dry-Mouth: Part of Presentation Nerves

by Peter Watts

Something peculiar happens to the throat while public speaking; its moist lining is replaced by sandpaper, and the voice, that essential presentation tool, asphyxiates to a rasp.

In the same way that it’s important for presenters to manage food intake, it’s also important to be aware of water intake, while avoiding caffeinated drinks such as coffee, which actually inhibit the ability to speak clearly. It’s a cruel twist that even though presentation nerves suppress our appetite for food, our appetites for caffeine become unquenchable. Even light coffee drinkers develop a conjoined relationship with the nearest coffee cup!

As well as acting as vocal lubricants, liquids swiftly enter our blood stream, so it’s important to be aware of what they do for us and to us during presentations:


A dry throat caused by tension needs to be relieved by sipping water. Have your water close at hand during your presentation and always carry your own small bottle with you, just in case water isn’t provided.

You’ll find the reassurance of simply knowing you have a source of water nearby reduces the risk of your voice drying out.

Hot Drinks

Hot drinks are frequently offered to us pre-presentation, and, as we’ll see in a later blog, can be very calming. Caffeinated drinks however should be avoided for three reasons:

  1. Caffeine is a stimulant and more stimulant to top up your adrenalin is the last thing you need
  2. Caffeine tenses the vocal chords so the voice tires more rapidly
  3. Caffeine is diuretic. You may feel like you’re taking in liquid, but it’s actually making you expel far more than you retain

 De-caffeinated drinks are fine, and many presenters drink plain hot water if it’s easily available.

Energy Drinks and Sodas

AVOID! Soda is gassy, and when presenting, gassy is never good. I once discovered this for myself when attached to a radio microphone in front of 300 people at a trade show!

Energy drinks meanwhile contain enough caffeine to wide-eye a stallion. They might be promoted as “natural stimulants”, but so are many class A drugs, and those aren’t recommended either! Remember the balance of stimulants already racing round your body. Avoid adding others to the mix.


Sadly, alcohol is in the never-before-a-presentation category. Even a single glass of wine will interfere with your judgment. This needs to be kept in mind especially for anyone who is after-dinner speaking.

That rosy glow of contentment is best experienced after your presentation, not during!

For more ideas on how to control presentation nerves, try the following Presenters’s Blog posts:

Beating Back Butterflies – Part of “Presentation Nerves”

Lepidoptera Stomachus

Lepidoptera Stomachus

by Peter Watts

Lepidoptera Stomachus, or “Butterflies in the Tummy” can invest our stomachs with a fluttering, pulsing, almost electrical life of their own.

Frequent presenting is a great way to lose weight. The person scheduled to speak after lunch can be easily spotted – they’re the one not eating at the buffet as their blood sugars, essential for concentration, plummet down to their socks.

In a previous blog we discussed the importance of oxygen to the presenter. In this one, we’ll consider the role of calories.

During Fight or Flight our appetite is suppressed. After all, if you’re nose-to-nose with a predator, then now isn’t the time for a light snack; not unless you want to be the light snack! If you’ve been stressed about presenting for the past few hours (days?) then you haven’t been eating.

Our bodies and brains need calories to function. Even if we’d like to lose weight and are tempted to regard loss of interest in food as a good thing, not eating will sap energy, reduce concentration, and contribute to tension headaches and trembling limbs.

Eat within two hours of your presentation. You may not feel hungry, but you must maintain the body’s fuel supply. If it’s only 30 minutes till show-time then the emergency food of choice is the banana. Bananas, as any athlete will tell you, are power food. High in natural sugars, they quickly digest for an ideal pre-presentation snack.

Avoid the following:

  • Dairy products (They stimulate mucus and congest the voice)

  • Red meat (Hard to digest and energy sapping)

  • Citrus (Acidity when you’re stressed upsets the stomach)

  • Beans (You figure it out!)

While it would be a mistake to eat a heavy meal immediately before a presentation, it’s equally wrong to starve yourself. When stressed, your body’s natural hunger signals are shut-down. Maintaining calorie intake therefore becomes a rational process, consciously taking care of your physical need for sustenance.

“Have I eaten today?” If the answer is no, then ensure that you do. You’ll find that miraculously, you feel better prepared for the challenge ahead.

For more ideas on how to control presentation nerves, try the following Presenters’s Blog posts:

Breathe Yourself Calm – Part of “Presentation Nerves”

by Peter Watts

Presentation nerves are a form of panic attack known as “Fight or Flight”. Evolved to keep our ancestors safe in their prehistoric world, it now generates the unpleasant sensations we suffer when faced not with predators, but presentations.

People report a standard palette of reactions, some of which you will share:

  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Shallow breathing
  • Cold, clammy hands
  • Sweating
  • Blushing
  • Light-headedness
  • Trembling and loss of concentration
To manage nerves, it helps to understand their mechanics. Click on this link for an explanation of Fight or Flight on

We can control nerves rather than be controlled by them. The most effective way to do this is through managing our breathing so that we help the heart to maintain its normal speed rather than hurtling off in a presentation rush.

During Fight or Flight, the heart accelerates to pump more oxygen around the body. Breathing meanwhile moves from stomach based, to chest based, becoming shallower in the process. So, just as the heart races to pump more oxygen, the lungs bring in less, making the heart beat faster to oxygenate vital muscles. As the heart’s oxygen demand outpaces supply, blood pressure increases. Sweating and looking flushed are common responses.

Slow the heart and those other reactions slow down with it; sweating stops and tell-tale blushing reduces. Cool the demand for oxygen and you cool overheating. The solution therefore; take a big deep breath.

Focus attention onto breathing out, completely emptying your lungs of stale air and creating capacity for deeper breaths in response.

Here is the process:

  • Slowly breath out for as long as you can
  • When you can breath out no more, push out three extra puffs, totally emptying the lungs
  • Roll back your shoulders, opening the chest cavity as wide as possible


  • Relax! Let your body naturally pull in the deepest breathe you’ve inhaled in weeks!

Two more like this, and you will be fully oxygenated. You might even notice a mild dizziness. Our brains burn oxygen, and you’ve hit yours with more oxygen than it’s had in months. Net result, head-rush!

Your heart meanwhile slows down, and as the heart relaxes, you relax.

You are back in control. This is how professional presenters remain calm in front of the biggest audiences.

Control your breathing, and presenting becomes significantly easier.

For more ideas on how to control presentation nerves, try the following Presenters’s Blog posts:

Presentation Nerves – Part 1

by Peter Watts

In surveys of what we fear the most, Public Speaking ranks as number one! Fear prevents the discovery that presenting is a reachable skill with many rewards, not least those of challenging self-imposed limits, and beating them!

Nervousness isn’t limited to first-time presenters. Experienced speakers hesitate about presenting to groups outside their comfort zones; maybe to audiences that are larger, or more senior, or that include members of the media.

Feeling nervous about presenting is completely natural. Everybody feels the same way. Nerves are not a barrier; they are a hurdle we overcome and then move beyond.

Consider that when a speaker is going to call on someone to answer a question, audience members will look anywhere but at the speaker…. “Pleeeaaaasssse don’t call on me”.

Even from the anonymous safety of the herd, we mentally adopt the brace position rather than speak in public.

What might this say about how audiences regard presenters?

By being able to stand and speak, when the rest of the room believes they would die in the attempt, could it be that presenters attract support from those watching them?

Audiences want us to succeed; they become part of the adventure. Our success becomes their success, and when we look an audience in the eye we see that support, sustaining us through the presentation.

It’s an idea that can be difficult to accept. “I’ll believe it when I see it”.

The belief that all presenters feel nerves, that fears become friends when properly managed, and that audiences support us through presentations, are things we only discover through practical experience. We see it when we believe it, and to see it, we have to face the fear. Like plunging into the water during a day at the beach, we must face that first chill shock before we discover that not only is the temperature actually quite pleasant, but that the water supports us, and we float!

Presenting is the same. Each time you nerve yourself back into the water, you prove that yes you survive, and that no, a shark does not come and take your leg off!

Whether experienced presenter or novice, understanding the mechanics of presentation nerves and how to work with them is essential knowledge.

Every Monday, throughout February and March, The Presenters’ Blog will share with you how to do exactly that. We’ll detail how you can stretch your limits in comfort, controlling presentation nerves rather than being controlled by them.

Whatever your next challenge as a presenter, you can face it with confidence if you are aware of just a few basic techniques.

Mankind’s unique gift is the power of speech, and public speaking is within the power of us all.

Next Article on Monday February 9th: Breathe Yourself Calm

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