9 Do’s and Taboos to Eat, Drink, and Speak
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Have you ever thought about the foods and beverages that can improve or degrade your speaking performance?
Do you have any good luck foods that you consume before speaking? How about a food or beverage you avoid?
Gonzalo Diaz asks this delicious question:
A month ago, I attended a conference where one of the speakers left for five minutes right in the middle of his talk. He apologized, saying it was something he ate.
I had never given much thought to it before. Do you have a list of foods that you avoid before speaking, or any foods that give you extra energy?
In this article, we’ll consider what you should — and shouldn’t — eat and drink for maximum speaking effectiveness.
Food and Drink Do’s and Taboos for Speakers
Like much of the advice given on Six Minutes, you must adapt the guidance in this article to your own personal situation. Every speaker has different digestive habits, and what works for one speaker may not work for another. The key is to realize that your performance can be impacted by your diet.
That being said, here are a few general guidelines:
- On the day of your presentation (or perhaps the day before if you are speaking first thing in the morning), practice moderation. You should not consume too much, nor too little, because both extremes can leave you ill — and that’s going to degrade your delivery.
- Avoid eating or drinking anything new, as you never know when your body might react badly to an unfamiliar ingredient. Beware of spicy and rich foods. This is a common affliction to speakers who travel to their speaking opportunities.
- Avoid eating a particularly heavy meal an hour or two before you speak. It is ironic that the process of digestion requires a great deal of energy. Thus, your body tends to be lethargic at this time. This can have a distinct negative effect on your gestures and overall energy level.
- Avoid alcohol entirely before speaking. While (I hope) it is common sense not to get drunk, I also recommend avoiding alcohol entirely before you speak. Even a small amount can impair your cognitive abilities, something which you need to be at peak efficiency. Don’t follow the advice that encourages a drink or two “to calm your nerves.” While it may calm your nerves, it will also have a negative effect on your judgment… and that’s always a bad thing with a microphone in your hand.
- Avoid dairy and other mucous-producing foods. These tend to build up mucous in your throat, promoting repeated (and distracting) clearing of your throat. Some speakers have also told me that soft drinks or other sugary drinks have the same negative effect.
- Avoid diuretics, notably caffeine drinks (coffee, tea, soft drinks) and alcohol. Before and during your speech, you want to be comfortable, and you don’t need this distraction.
- Some speakers avoid ice cold beverages; some swear off hot beverages. In both cases, the rationale is that it negatively affects your vocal comfort. The lesson is that you should develop self-awareness of what works for you.
- Drink water. I’m a huge believer that nothing is better for your voice (and, your overall health) than drinking lots of water. Ensure that you stay well-hydrated the day you speak. It’s also a good idea to keep a bottle of water nearby while you speak. Not only will it help you remedy a dry mouth, but the act of taking a drink is a good opportunity for you to pause, transition, and check your notes discretely.
- Some speakers adhere to strict habits about eating a certain food before every presentation they give. For example, one speaker I know eats a banana about half an hour before every presentation. As long as you keep it light, I don’t see much harm in calming yourself with a small indulgence.
Speak well, and enjoy a treat… after you finish!
Your Turn: What’s Your Opinion?
What foods do you avoid before you speak? Do you have a pre-presentation ritual that you follow?
Please share in the comments.