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Public Speaking Tips: How to "Eat Neat" at Events

Updated on February 15, 2019
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Heidi Thorne is a business author with 25 years of experience in marketing/sales, including a decade in the hotel and trade show industries.


Most in person events feature some sort of food or beverage, even if it's just water. However, handling food and drinks can be a challenge for speakers who have to perform at their best. Here are some public speaking tips for eating and drinking neatly when at events to make presentations. Event managers should also be aware of these tips to help speakers provide a smooth and professional performance.

Why are Food and Beverages Such a Problem for Speakers?

Often speakers are invited to attend the pre-presentation meal to network with attendees and given the meal free as part of their compensation package. That's nice. But it can also cause the following hassles which can ruin an upcoming presentation:

  1. Spilled Drinks. Coffee and tea stains on clothing from spills can torpedo a speaker's confidence in a hurry. Even spilled glasses of water or bottled water can make a wet mess of clothing and documents or even destroy electronic equipment needed for the presentation.
  2. Sandwich Slop. Sandwiches can be a mess to eat. It's also difficult to talk with attendees during the meal with a mouthful of hard to chew sub roll and cold cuts. Female speakers also usually need to reapply lipstick afterwards, but may not be able to due to event timing.
  3. Spaghetti Sauced. No matter how talented one is at twisting spaghetti or stringy pasta around a fork, the sauce just seems to find it's way onto clothing.
  4. Sticky Stuff. Frosted donuts, sweet rolls or barbecue are difficult to wipe from hands if heading up to the podium right after the meal. Translation: Sticky mess all over presentation equipment and handouts.
  5. Finger-Licking Bad. Like sticky stuff, greasy items such as fried chicken wings get oily residue over everything unless eaten with a fork (which is sometimes not easy if it's a cocktail reception).
  6. Bad Seeds. Seeded rolls or other foods can leave a seeds in teeth which are not only unsightly, but can be distracting while speaking.
  7. Chug-a-Lug. Bottled or canned drinks are difficult to consume as hydration for dry throats during a presentation. Because speakers are usually concentrating on what they're presenting or listening to audience questions while throwing their heads back for taking sips, it's easy to spill or choke and derail the show. It's also an awkward gesture for the audience to watch (unless it's part of the actual presentation).
  8. Libation Situation. Alcoholic beverages can cause often be detected on the breath and reduce concentration and awareness.
  9. They Know What You Had for Lunch. Garlic, onions and foods that have an aftertaste can linger on a speaker's breath, especially when mouths are dry from speaking. Sure, the speaker is up in front. But this is more of a concern for the post-presentation chatting with attendees.

Speaking Tips for Eating and Drinking

Speakers need to remember that they are performers. Imagine if a prima ballerina stopped in the middle of Swan Lake to swill a beverage on stage. It would be absurd. Public speakers are no different.

Sure, speaking for long stretches of time may require a beverage sip or two throughout. But doing it in a way that is not distracting is the goal. And because speakers are the stars of the show, even at a business conference, they need to be presenting as professional a demeanor as possible at all times during the event.

Here are five easy speaking tips for handling food and drinks while networking and presenting at events:

  1. B.Y.O.B. (Bring Your Own Beverage). Water or other beverage in a securely covered mug or cup that has a straw is the easiest beverage solution for while on stage. It is easy to take a sip and quickly move it out of sight under the podium or on a side table. Less mess, less time wasted, less chance of spilling on clothing, equipment and papers.
  2. Put a Fork In It. If eating prior to speaking, opt for eating just those foods that can be consumed with a fork. Smaller bites can be taken and finished quickly, allowing more time and smoother conversation with attendees. With a bit of practice, female speakers can also avoid having to refresh lipstick by only eating foods carefully with a fork.
  3. Passing the Bar. Drinking alcoholic beverages can affect speakers' attention span and performance level. Consume VERY little or not at all.
  4. Have a Meal Before. Hunger doesn't enhance performance and could be a distraction. Plan to eat a healthy and satisfying meal prior to the event so that attention can be on the presentation and the people. Then eat very sparingly during the event just to be congenial. Some event hosts will say, "Eat something!" Politely explain that eating is difficult right before a performance, but assure them that it is not because of the food, venue or the group. If a lively conversation goes on during the pre-presentation meal, it is unlikely that people will notice the speaker's minimal consumption.
  5. Ready, Set... The event host or planner should be made aware that a pre-presentation bathroom stop may be needed to check clothing and other hygiene details before going on stage. Speakers should request a heads up at least five to 10 minutes prior which is usually sufficient, depending on location of restrooms.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2013 Heidi Thorne


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