In 2013 during the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address, Senator Marco Rubio had his You Tube and late night TV moment. While talking and staring straight into the television cameras, Rubio reached off camera to grab a bottle of water and take a quick sip.
While this awkward moment became a classic bit on the late night TV talk shows, it underscores for speakers how important it is to keep hydrated and to have a “water plan.”
While it may sound obvious, many inexperienced speakers will go on stage without any water and 15-20 minutes into their session ask out loud for some water. Or worse yet, they won’t ask for water and their throat will dry up making it increasingly difficult to speak.
Don’t be that person.
Why Do We Need Water When Speaking in Public?
The short answer is nerves. According to several sources, our mouths get dry when we have increased anxiety, a not uncommon occurrence when speaking in front of a crowd. Some of the causes of dry mouth, according to Calmclinic.com are:
- Breathing through the mouth: People suffering from anxiety tend to breathe more through their mouth, and the extra air will dry out you your mouth.
- Acid backup: If you suffer from acid reflux, you mouth will be drier.
- Fluid changes: Your body may move saliva and water to other parts of your body, drying out your mouth.
- Dehydration: You may simply have not drunken enough water in advance of going on stage.
Here are a couple of articles with more detail on causes of dry mouth:
Where to Put the Water?
Most event organizers will have a pitcher of water and glasses on or near the stage available for speakers and panelists. Make sure you pour some before heading on to the stage. I personally prefer a bottle of water (putting aside the environmental considerations) because a bottle is easier to hold than a glass and you are less likely to run out.
One often tricky challenge can be where to set the glass or bottle? Many of the modern podiums are angled at about 45-degrees and don’t include a flat area to rest a glass or bottle. This is another reason I prefer a bottle as you might be able to set a bottle on the small lip on many podiums – without it falling on to the floor or stage.
Make sure you check out both the water and placement situation well before going on stage. You might have to set your water glass or bottle on a table or chair off to the side of the stage and walk back and forth during your talk. The least favorable option is placing your glass or bottle on the floor of the stage as this can be awkward, and can produce embarrassing results like your pants splitting (no that hasn’t happened to me) or your microphone falling off.
When to Take A Sip?
Avoid drinking water as you walk on stage or in the middle of a sentence or key thought. And while it takes some experience, see if you can plan when you are going to take a sip of water. Possibilities include when:
- You pause to emphasize a point
- You change a slide
- You are about to tell a key story
- You ask the audience a question
- An audience member asks you a question.
After a few times on stage with water you’ll find what set up and approach works best for you. Just make sure you are prepared and don’t have a “Rubio” moment.