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:


  1. There was an all natural mouth wash that both my dentist used and we used to be able to get at Wegmans. However, it does not seem to be available any longer.

    I currently use a cysteine based tooth paste that is made of baking soda. I sell it but will warn that it is way overpriced and add shipping, most will not want to pay the price. This cysteine is not the same as weight lifters use. It is, however the same stuff I occasionally give to patients in the hospital, only mixed into the toothpaste.

    At the least, baking soda based tooth pastes found at the health foods stores have a number of health benefits and could help with the dry mouth challenge.

    I buy several tubes, several months at a time when I get it. For me, it is the first that ended the pink in the sink.

    Also, I use a water pic. This is rather new to my arsenal. I would highly recommend this. You will be amazed at how good they work.

  2. I found that before having meetings with my staff I would get dry mouth. It caused me to clear my throat frequently. Plus, I was concerned that my dry mouth would cause bad breath. I did exactly what you mentioned in your article. I got into the habit of carrying around a water bottle. This was a minor inconvenience to avoid having dry mouth.

  3. Wheatley Wentzell says:

    As you can tell, I’m reading some posts from the archive. What do you personally do before presenting? Do you have a certain ritual that you’ve found works best for you?

    • Hi Wheatley. For me, the most crucial thing to do before a presentation is to check that my breathing is deep and slow. If your breathing is slow, then your heart-beat will be slow as well, and that is the key to being calm and cool in your opening moments. Get through those first few opening minutes with a cool head and a clear voice, and the rest of the presentation should flow along nicely!

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