Article Category: Ask Six Minutes, Speaker Habits

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

The key is to realize that your performance can be impacted by your diet.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 commonly afflicts speakers who travel to their speaking opportunities.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

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Comments icon9 Comments

  1. John Kluempers says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Eating a banana is great. It coats your throat so it doesn’t dry out so easily.

    As a radio news reader, I learned one big big no-no directly (say 15 mins.) before going air to speak: APPLES!
    The acids in the fruit make you drool heavily. Stopping to swallow constantly is inconvenient.
    Good tips yet again from you.

  2. Ana Neves says:

    Hi Andrew.
    Great article! I totally agree with WATER! In one of my speeches in Toastmasters my nerves did affect my whole body but specially my mouth. It was so dry I thought I wouldn’t be able to finish! Now I always take a bottle of water with me.
    I would like to add another Don’t to the list: Chocolate. I know a drama teacher that gave me this hint and explained why: chocolate tends to cover the walls of your throat making it difficult for the air to circulate which affects voice projection.
    It seems that perfection is indeed in the little things!

  3. Sue Carabin says:

    Hi, These are some great suggestions. Humming helps mucous also. This can be done in the car on your travels. It actually helps to dry up your throat..
    question to the host: Have you ever done an article on anxiety or breathing while speaking. Is there a breathing rhythm I can use when speaking. Sometimes when I get anxious in my speaking I tend to forget to breath and I can actually feel myself in the early stages of hyper ventilating, which has be gasping for air like I’m asthmatic, which I’m not.

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      I encourage you to read Breathing: The Seductive Key to Unlocking Your Vocal Variety by guest author and voice expert Kate Peters.

  4. Poppy Smith says:

    I agree with no dairy products. Also tea/coffee dry my throat. If you’re diabetic, be careful with the timing of your meds and foods–had to grab some orange juice before speaking once ’cause I wasn’t watching this. You don’t want to get dizzy while speaking!

  5. Marcie says:

    I honestly never gave much thought to food before speaking until last night when I had two minutes to finish my last two bites prior to a quick, informal presentation. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Be very careful with the water. While the water options is great, if you do not manage it correctly your call of nature will happen in the middle of your speaking. And it will show by your dancing. Here is what I found works well. Drink and keep yourself well hydrated until about an hour before your speaking engagement. Then give your body a chance to hit the head a couple of times and flush out what is in you. One of LAST things you should do before speaking is go the bathroom. Then of course sip water while you are speaking. This has worked great for years for me.

    Also: Sing out loud in your car on the way to the speaking engagement. It is fun, and it warms up those vocal cords. The quality and range of your voice will be great as a result.

  7. I appreciate this article, Andrew.

    I’ve never given much thought to anything but the water advice, but the other points are certainly germain to the Post and speaking in general.


  8. I would concur with everything that Andrew mentions here. In addition to avoiding alcohol before giving a speech, do avoid carbonated drinks too. I tend to drink room temperature water, unless I am in an especially hot and humid climate, where I drink cool, not iced drinks. I also may drink warm herbal tea with honey, before a presentation, but not black or green tea which may act as diuretics. There is nothing worse than having an issue with throat clearing, due to something going the wrong way the day of your presentation. Vinegar in a salad dressing can do this to me as well. For longer workshops, I recommend Slippery Elm which coats the throat. It can be in a tea or lozenge. I prefer the latter form.

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