Public Speaking Expert
By Bella Arrowsmith
Living in a health conscious society the majority of us have become aware of the effects that our diets have on our daily lives. However, for many this culinary conscientiousness does not translate into our as effectiveness public speakers, despite evidence showing that what we choose or choose not to eat or drink before giving a speech can make a noticeable difference on the overall quality of a presentation. The question of what and how much to eat before speaking is usually based on the individual. Though there are certain guide lines that all could do well to follow, making your own choice can require a little research into your personal reactions to certain foods and beverages. The purpose of this article is to give you a little direction in this decision making process so that you might have yet another tool to make your public presentation the best it can be.
There are several factors that should be kept in mind when choosing what to ingest in the time before giving a presentation. Pronunciation, energy level, concentration, mental clarity, and, for lack of a better term, non-verbal audio effects, should all be considered. For example, things that are known to cause the over production of phlegm, such as dairy, should be avoided, as excessive clearing of the throat can not only be distracting to both yourself and your audience, but can also be rather annoying to those trying to listen to the important information you are to presenting. Also, things that may worsen the symptoms of anxiety, such as caffeine, should also be left alone, as shaking hands and profuse sweating do not exactly give off the impression of relaxed confidence and preparedness. As a basic rule, junk food, heavy carbohydrates (such as breads made with refined white flours) or any foods that tend to bring about digestive problems should not be consumed, as this can affect your energy levels, focus, and speech delivery. It may be a good idea to keep a diet journal in the weeks before your presentation in order to document which foods and beverages affect you positively or negatively, and then make a list of foods that are beneficial and those which you should avoid.
To give you a head start, the following is a list of foods and drinks that generally should be avoided during the 12-24 hours before public speaking.
• Caffeine- While many cannot make it through their morning without a cup of coffee or two, over-consumption of caffeinated products can make you produce even more adrenaline than you already are and make symptoms of anxiety and nervousness, such as shakiness, over excitement, profuse sweating, racing heart and heavy breathing, all the more obvious. Caffeine can also have undesired laxative effects. Whether you should consume caffeine, and how much you should consume, before a presentation, is a personal decision. Know yourself and your reactions to the substance before making a choice.
• Sugar- For the same reasons stated above for caffeine, sugary foods and drinks should be left alone. As well as with caffeine, most people tend to “crash” shortly after consuming of sugar, and the timing of this could be very unfortunate for your presentation.
• Dairy and Orange Juice- Dairy products and orange juice both cause an over-production of phlegm and thicken your saliva, which can negatively affect your speech and pronunciation. Constant swallowing can be distracting and excessive throat clearing is hard on your vocal cords.
• Herbs- Certain herbs, such as boneset, coltsfoot, elder and echinacea (found in many teas and throat lozenges) can act as an expectorant and should be avoided as they induce heavy sweating.
• Spicy Foods- These produce excess saliva that lead to over-swallowing and bring about intestinal discomfort causing gas and burping. Some spicy foods can also cause bad breath, and if you are asked to meet with members of your audience after your presentation, this could potentially give an unsavory impression.
• Beans/Legumes- Unless you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, avoid these items as they can produce intestinal discomfort including bloating and gas, neither of which you want to experience during your speech.
• Alcohol- While you may think that having a drink before speaking may calm your nerves, this is a risky proposition, just as drinking and driving is. Just as with driving, you need to be sharp, clear, and focused during your presentation. Alcohol dulls the senses and clouds your judgment, impairing your speech and allowing for many embarrassing mistakes, the least of which being burping and hiccups. Alcohol is the biggest pre-speech no-no.
How you eat your food can also have an affect on your speech. Rushing through a meal can cause you to swallow air, causing the potential for burping and hiccups. The same can be said for gulping beverages or drinking through a straw. Also, remember to chew your food thoroughly, as food that isn’t properly masticated before reaching the stomach and intestines can also cause bloating and gas.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are plenty of foods and beverages that can be quite beneficial in preparing you to speak in public. Herbal teas, such as peppermint, ginger, slippery elm and chamomile all have a non-drowsy calming affect, aid in digestion and lubricate the vocal cords, and are an excellent choice not only before your presentation but during. Green tea, high in anti-oxidants and considered a healthy source of caffeine, can also be used as a substitute for coffee. In the days before your presentation, following a diet of lean protein, vegetables, whole grains and plenty of water will leave you feeling light, clear headed, and energized for your presentation. In particular, “brain foods” rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish (especially salmon), flax seed, and soy all sharpen memory, encourage a stable mood, and improve coordination and concentration. Other brain builders include avocados, bananas, spinach, broccoli and brown rice.
Balance is a key factor in choosing what to consume before public speaking. Large, heavy, unhealthy meals that cause bloating, drowsiness and stomach discomfort do nothing for one’s confidence and focus. On the other hand, neither does an empty stomach. Imagine how distracting it would be to hear your own stomach growl during a speech, not to mention the distraction of hunger itself. Beyond this, neither an overly full or empty stomach helps to ease nervousness. Thus, a balanced, freshly prepared meal rich in nutrients is the optimal choice before speaking in public. Ultimately, the best advice that can be given in the matters of pre-presentation consumption is to know your mind and body and their respective reactions to what you consume, and from there, use your best common sense.