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. Hi – interesting point about carrying your own water and stuff but don’t forget that neither the water nor the tea/coffee have any direct effect on your vocal cords! The only time water ever touches your vocal cords is when you’re drowning!


    • Hi Simon

      Thanks for your comments. It’s great to hear from a fellow trainer. Certainly drowning during a presentation would not count as a positive outcome! (Guest speaker on the Titanic perhaps???) Take a quick trawl through some of the web-sites aimed at professional musicians and you’ll see advice telling voice-professionals to avoid caffeine because of its negative impact on the vocal chords, particularly through drying them out and causing stress. Is it your view that as presenters this type of advice doesn’t apply to us?

      Best regards

  2. Very informative, Peter!
    Now I know more of what I shouldn’t drink. 🙂

    Jesse Domingo

    • Hi Jesse

      Absolutely! What we choose to drink when presenting can have a direct impact of the quality of our voices….. not to mention our logic process!

      Great to hear from you

  3. Andrew Norwood says:

    Peter, you talk about water consumption… but what about the other end of the equation? Too much and that can mean disaster…Or do you subscribe to the David Cameron school of presenting and the need for ‘inner tension’?

    “Film maker Michael Cockerell said the Conservative leader has taken on board legendary orator Enoch Powell’s tip of delivering speeches on a full bladder.

    Mr Cameron “specifically refrained from using the loo” before this year’s Tory conference speech, Mr Cockerell added.

    The resulting inner tension helped Mr Cameron to deliver a memorised speech seen as a “triumph”, he added.”

    Personally I find taking a sip of water during a presentation as good way of pausing at a key point to let the audience think about what you said…


    • Hi Andrew

      Now that is one unusual piece of advice, and admittedly, one that I haven’t tried before! You’d certainly need to know how long your speech was going to run for, how far it was to the bathroom, and be fairly sure of no sudden surprises or loud noises during your speech!

      Thanks for the web-link! Considering the subject, I was a little worried about what might be on the end of it! 🙂

      Your idea to take a sip of water as a way to emphasize a point is an interesting one. Similar to the way some speakers will remove their glasses when they come to a key-phrase, this is a stage-technique that physically causes a pause, and thereby creates the emphasis.

      Good to hear from you

  4. There is one more thing about alcohol. Mouth wash that has alcohol in it can dry the mucous membranes. This damage is both short and long term. Either way, speakers should consider another option.

    • Hi Jonathan

      Thank you very much for your comment and for raising this point. Your comment represents precisely where my hopes are for this blog – a place where we can all idea share.

      I had no idea about mouth-wash! Do you have any alternative suggestions for what speakers should be using instead? Are there alcohol-free products that could be substituted?

      Thanks for getting in touch

      PS: Great web-site Jonathan – lots of excellent presenter info

  5. Thanks for the post. Enjoyed the tips to avoid dry mouth.

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