10 tips for dealing wth dry mouth when you speak

If you give a lot of speeches or presentations, there is a good chance that you have experienced dry mouth (also known as cotton mouth) — that parched, sticky sensation that makes your mouth and throat feel like cracked soil in a drought.

Cracked, dry earth

The technical term for dry mouth is xerostomia. It’s a condition in which the salivary glands in your mouth don’t produce enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. There are several causes of xerostomia, some of which are serious. For many people, however, dry mouth is a temporary condition brought on by stress or nerves, something which every public speaker has experienced.

You know the symptoms: a dry, sticky mouth; a sore throat; difficulty swallowing; a heavy pasty tongue. Not fun and, if you are speaking to an audience, not helpful. So what can you do about it?

Ten Tips to Deal with Dry Mouth

1.  Drink plenty of water the night before. Yes, you will be going to the washroom more often than usual, but all that water will hydrate your cells.

2.  Sip water regularly in the hour or so before you speak to stay hydrated. Be sure to go to the washroom before you take the stage.

3.  Chew citrus-flavoured gum or a lozenge before speaking, but don’t forget go spit it out before going on stage!

4.  Have water handy on stage so that you can take a sip if necessary. Two important things to remember about water:

(a) It should be room temperature. Cold water constricts the vocal chords.

(b) It should be flat, not sparkling. Bubble have a way of coming back up!

5.  Avoid alcohol, caffeine and tobacco before you speak because these substances worsen dry mouth.

6.  If you use mouthwash, choose a brand without alcohol.

7.  Try an oral rinse that is designed to counteract dry mouth. Such rinses usually contain xylitol, which helps stimulate saliva. I have used this brand and found it works well.

8.  Avoid antihistamines and decongestants as they tend to exacerbate dry mouth.

9.  Sleep with a humidifier.

10.  Prepare well. This will help you feel more confident, which will help you feel less nervous, which in turn will help minimize dry mouth.

About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
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6 Responses to 10 tips for dealing wth dry mouth when you speak

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  3. AJ says:

    Thanks for the tips! This happens to me when I feel extra-anxious in front of an audience.

  4. Thierry Morel says:

    Thanks John for these tips. Dry mouth was one of my main symptoms of nervousness, which was actually one of the reasons I joined Toastmasters back in 2010: to learn to be more comfortable when speaking in front of others. Today nervousness is still here of course, but far less. As you mention preparation is key and I always keep a bottle of water close by. I like your tip about the fact that it should be at room temperature – good reminder.

    • John Zimmer says:

      Thanks, Thierry. Yes, the nerves never go away completely. Glad you liked the post. Happy New Year and see you at an event soon, I hope.

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