Most people don’t ever think about eating affecting speaking, but diet can have an impact on your speaking performance. What’s especially important is what you eat or drink in the couple of hours before a speech.
It’s impossible to be prescriptive as we all have different metabolisms and preferences so please use this as a guide rather than a set of rules.
- Don’t indulge in over-eating or drinking, too much or too little can leave you feeling either uncomfortably hungry or badly bloated. This will affect your physiology and therefore your performance.
- Avoid trying out new foods before a speech as you could have a reaction to something you haven’t eaten before. If you are giving an after dinner speech, try and find out what is on the menu beforehand and make choices that you know and trust.
- Avoid alcohol completely. It’s tempting to take a drink or two to “steady the nerves”. Even small amounts of alcohol impair judgement and lead speakers to ad-lib inappropriately and even offend an audience. Although you may think you are performing better after a drink, your audience will not think so. Alcohol also reduces the production of saliva and as soon as the instant alcoholic lubrication wears off, you will be left with a dry mouth which makes it very difficult for you to speak properly.
- Avoid dairy products before speaking. Things like cheese and milk cause your larynx to become coated with mucous and you end up coughing and clearing your throat constantly, which can be most distracting for the audience.
- Avoid anything with caffeine which is a well-known diuretic and causes two problems:
- speeds up the production of urine. You may find yourself feeling very uncomfortable and in need of a bathroom break. If this happens when you still have 30 minutes speaking time left, your performance will suffer.
- causes you to become dehydrated. Your mouth becomes dry, leading to further speaking difficulties.
- Drink lots of water to avoid dehydration. You should do this well before your speech starts and keep topping up in small amounts. Rehydration is not an instant process so if you become dry mouthed it may take some time to recover. Some people like to sip water during a speech, but unless it is a particularly long speech I would advise against it as it can look distracting to the audience.
The most important thing is to be sensible – eat and drink in a healthy way so that you feel at your best when you speak.