presentation traps 4 – the mouth trap

image source: Flickr. Fresh tomato sauce by Urbanfoodie33

It is the 10:15 am coffee break. Outside the meeting room is a long table covered in cream-coloured linen. On it the conference attendees find the traditional offerings: coffee, cream, Ceylon tea, brown and white sugar, and finger food to relieve the hunger pangs and make the long wait for lunch more tolerable. You did not join the people who left the room because it is your turn to present right after the coffee break. You are standing next to the computer. Your slides are ready. And you are waiting for people to come back into the room. Your friend walks in, slowly, holding a saucepan on which you see a cup filled nearly to the brim with piping hot coffee. she even thought of taking two sticks of your favourite raw sugar, and three small sealed cups of half and half cream. “Here, John. Take This. It will perk you up.” You smile, express your gratitude, move your hand towards the cup, and… STOP REWIND.

That  stainless steel pitcher of icy water glistening on the small table close to the lectern looks so refreshing. Condensation sends rivulets of crystalline water down its slippery sides. You are about to present. The glass in front of you is empty. You are a bit nervous and you think that drinking might water down that anxiety of yours. Your hand moves towards the pitcher, and… STOP REWIND.

The next day. You are also to present on behalf of your manager who missed his flight. His talk is right after lunch. The morning drags on but lunch finally arrives, and you are famished. You look at the buffet set out for the conference participants, and you see an irresistible spaghetti Bolognese dish between the roasted spuds with braised pork and the broccoli/cauliflower/mushroom/sweet peas mix. Your take the spaghetti serving spoon and lift it as carefully as a crane would lift its cargo prior to depositing it on your plate. Back at your table, you sit down, trap a wad of spaghettis between your fork and your spoon, and… STOP REWIND.

Can you say what might happen next in each scenario that may make your talk less effective?

Iced Water: Bad for your vocal chords. You need to warm them prior to a talk by speaking, not by drinking icy water. Drinking warm water is better for you, but hot coffee?

Coffee or tea: Prior to a presentation, your body produces the adrenaline hormone as a result of your anxiety. Coffee and tea contain caffeine, which helps the body keep that adrenaline of yours in your blood stream longer than it should. This is not wise. But milk?

Milk: The milk protein thickens natural mucus, such as saliva. Your anxiety may overproduce saliva which, combined with milk, thickens. As a result, your vocal chords feel as though something is getting in their way. They trigger a throat clearing reflex …while you are presenting, of course. And the sound-trapping lapel microphone you are wearing takes great pleasure in amplifying that unromantic sound to nauseating levels over the room speakers.

Spaghetti: The reason why the best restaurants offer a special towel for people who eat spaghetti is because the probability of decorating their guests’ white Armani blouse or shirt with red tomato sauce is fairly high. If the red sauce hits the target, be aware that trying to wash the stain away only contributes to spread it or, given enough water, to give you that wet t-shirt look … all this, right before your presentation, of course, with no time to return to your hotel room to change clothes. To prevent the audience from seeing the red stain, you will try to hide it in a number of different and creative ways while speaking; for example : facing the wall standing sideways,or turning your back to the audience, or holding some document in front of your chest during the whole talk… thus causing the audience to wonder what’s wrong with you !

So presenters, beware of the mouth trap. Drink warm water, avoid milk and coffee, and take a change of clothes if you intend to eat spaghetti!

By Jean-luc Lebrun

image source: Flickr. Fresh tomato sauce by Urbanfoodie33

Author: Jean-Luc Lebrun

This century: Writer on Scientific writing skills and scientific presentation skills, MC for scientific events, Podcaster, Radio Consultant, Trainer for Research Institutes in Engineering and Life Sciences, Singapore, and in European doctoral schools, as well as in South East Asia Universities. Last Century: Apple Computer, Advanced Technology Group, Technology Information manager. Then Director of the Apple-ISS Research Centre - a joint venture between Apple Computer and the National University of Singapore. Producer of TV program on IT for Singapore Channel 5.

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