No more dry runs, please.
March 16, 2012 6:07 AM   Subscribe

Public speaking: I know my material, I feel good about it, I still end up with horrific dry mouth. What can I do to make that ease up?

Done well enough so far, but the moot court competition I have coming up has a cash prize that I really think I could have a crack at taking home if I could get this down, which means a bit more to me than just bragging rights. In practice, I feel comfortable, speak (relatively) slowly, answer questions smoothly. In front of judges, I suddenly end up feeling like I'm trying to talk through a mouthful of cotton balls. I have no problem with dry mouth day-to-day.

So, it's clearly only related to very specific stress situations, and it would probably be okay if we could have water during, but I can't. I have already tried cutting out anything I take regularly except Claritin, which I can't give up and still breathe, with no real improvement. I've tried Ativan (no real impact on that part of it) and Biotene spray (which worked for about two minutes of my 15-minute argument). I'm not sure what else might be useful and decided that maybe I should seek some ideas from folks here before I end up buying more stuff that doesn't work. Any thoughts? Other meds, supplements, things to do beforehand to give me enough spit to make it through to the other side?
posted by gracedissolved to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
More practice. This isn't a problem with a physiological cause, so only treating the physiological symptoms is, at best, a band-aid. Set up some more formal settings. Try practicing in the room where you're going to be competing, if possible.
posted by valkyryn at 6:21 AM on March 16, 2012

Pause for just a moment and bite the tip of your tongue or inside of your cheek.
posted by ferociouskitty at 6:38 AM on March 16, 2012

The best advice I ever got for public speaking is: Come up with an agenda. I don't mean an outline or list of talking points, but rather a list of things that you want to see occur during your time speaking: You want to get two people to laugh more than once; you want to see at least one person write down something that you said; etc. Whether you get these things to occur or not, you're watching for them, and you make a note of if they occurred, and if any item on your agenda didn't happen you focus on how you can get it to happen next time.

What this does is that it gives you something to think about other than stressing out about whether the words emerging from your mouth make any sense and whether you are the worst thing that has ever existed and whether you want to crawl into a hole and die somewhere. It gives you a set of criteria by which to judge your performance that is objective and based somewhere outside of your own neurotic impression of how poorly you did.

The other bit of advice, which may not be applicable in your situation (since you mentioned judges, and this is better for, like, business presentations) is to ask specific open-ended questions of individuals in your audience. Remember in high school math when the teacher was calling on people to say how they'd gotten the answer to one of the homework problems, and even though you think you got it right, you really really didn't want the teacher to call on you? This is the position you can put your audience in. Like for example if I'm presenting on some sales figures or whatever, everyone in the room is looking at me, and I'm super conscious of that, I suddenly say: 'Mike, how does your team form their quarterly metrics?' and suddenly Mike is the one that everyone's paying attention to, and I've created a window in which to collect myself. And for the rest of the presentation, no one else wants to get called on by me, and they're worrying about themselves rather than how I'm doing.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:50 AM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Like valkyryn says, dealing with the dryness itself is a bit of a distraction. You need to feel more comfortable in your shoes and in the space. That said, bottles of water for speakers serve two purposes: hydration and socially acceptable pauses. I'm not sure about the courtroom context, but when I'm giving a talk part of what's so great about the bottle of water is that pausing to slowly take a sip gives you a moment of peace to collect your thoughts and figure out where you're going next. Depending on the length and format of the talk this may not work, but in academia where we're often giving long-ish (30-40 minute) talks it's totally fine to stop at various points for a bit of water. This creates that window shakespeherian is talking about in a way no one will think twice about. Plus, it does actually help with the dry mouth itself. But that's not the only point.
posted by heresiarch at 7:08 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hi. Ask your doctor about access to propanolol (Inderal). It's a beta-blocker commonly prescribed off-label for performance anxiety or stage fright ... reputably effective in the prevention of dry mouth.

(There's no need to take routinely, just half an hour or so before the event. Your doctor will advise.)
posted by de at 3:24 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just a few things: The water thing will probably not be a forever issue, but it's definitely not okay in this competition, I checked. I can't really do the more conversational stuff, but this may explain in a lot of ways why I didn't really have this problem in grad school, it was just a different way of presenting that was much more familiar. (And also, while that probably wasn't meant literally, different shoes--I'm definitely going to do more rehearsing in the full uncomfortable getup. Stupid skirt suits, as pants have been similarly declared unprofessional.) But there's nothing here that's not solid in general terms even if I can't use it this time, thanks!
posted by gracedissolved at 3:41 PM on March 16, 2012

I'm not sure if this will help, but sometimes in situations like that I find sucking on a mint useful. It's not as good as water, but it gets some saliva going. Of course, it probably won't last fifteen minutes, but maybe it would be enough to get you started?

And I totally hear you on the skirt suit thing. It's so ridiculous that something like that is even a point of discussion.
posted by McPuppington the Third at 4:07 PM on March 16, 2012

And, I mean, heck, Demosthanes was reputed to have practiced public speaking by putting a bunch of marbles in his mouth. Figured if he could enunciate then, he could enunciate whenever.

Having something in your mouth gives the added benefit of producing a bit of saliva. Doesn't have to be much. A bit of gum might help. Don't chew it, obviously, but surreptitiously stashing it in your cheek should keep the saliva flowing.
posted by valkyryn at 6:09 PM on March 16, 2012

There are various products available specifically to help with dry mouth. A gel, small lozenge or tiny piece of gum tucked in your cheek might help. Be sure to try it out first to make sure it doesn't make you all drooly -- also not a good professional look.

And SKIRTS? Is that even legal? Is there a swimsuit competition, too?
posted by Corvid at 7:15 PM on March 17, 2012

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