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

Updated on November 21, 2014
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Heidi Thorne is a business author with 25 years experience in marketing and sales including a decade in the hotel and trade show industries.

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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.

Avoid greasy, messy to eat foods when speaking at events.
Avoid greasy, messy to eat foods when speaking at events. | Source

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.

Using cups and tumblers with straws can help speakers prevent liquid spills and make it easy to grab a sip during a presentation.
Using cups and tumblers with straws can help speakers prevent liquid spills and make it easy to grab a sip during a presentation. | Source

One of My Favorite Tumblers for Speaking

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 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.

Disclaimer: Any examples used are for illustrative purposes only and do not suggest affiliation or endorsement. The author/publisher has used best efforts in preparation of this article. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and all parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice, strategies and recommendations presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional adviser where and when appropriate. The author/publisher shall not be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages. So by reading and using this information, you accept this risk.

© 2013 Heidi Thorne

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  • heidithorne profile image
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    Heidi Thorne 3 years ago from Chicago Area

    At this week's speaking event, I was glad I had my tumbler with straw handy. Facilities can be really dry in the winter!

  • heidithorne profile image
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    Heidi Thorne 4 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi FlourishAnyway! You're so right! It's an issue for both speakers AND attendees. You'll love this: At a recent business expo, BBQ ribs were being served. Really? I don't think there's anything messier than that. :) Thanks for commenting and sharing! Happy Halloween!

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

    Excellent tips on an often forgotten or ignored area of presentations to conferences and other audiences. You are absolutely right that event managers should consider these things. I also like your suggestions. Even for those in the audience, it's hard to chat with others while handling messy foods or worrying about that sesame seed that is stuck in your teeth from the hard, crusty rolls. Voted up and more! Sharing and pinning, too.

  • heidithorne profile image
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    Heidi Thorne 4 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hello Chris at The Event Expert! Good advice, especially for those who have a bit of lactose intolerance (like me). I've also heard this "no dairy" recommendation to avoid respiratory congestion and do avoid it prior to speaking, too. Thanks so much for stopping by and adding these great tips to the conversation!

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    chris.powell@theeventexpert.co.uk 4 years ago

    Great list. One thing I have learnt from the world of singing is to stay away from dairy products prior to a talk - they are said to clog up the breathing channels! please don't ask me to explain, as I don't know why. But from my own experience a bowl of serial followed by a few milky coffees really does make speaking life a little harder. This does in main apply to longer speaking/ presenting engagements.

  • heidithorne profile image
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    Heidi Thorne 4 years ago from Chicago Area

    Thanks, MrsBrownsParlour, for reading and kind comments! Glad you found it helpful. Cheers!

  • MrsBrownsParlour profile image

    Lurana Brown 4 years ago from Chicagoland, Illinois

    Helpful advice and great hub! ~Lurana

  • heidithorne profile image
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    Heidi Thorne 4 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hello, amandajoyshapiro! You are sooooo right! Ditch soda and alcohol in favor of water. You're absolutely correct about the drink temperature issue, too. Thanks so much for adding these tips to the conversation! Have a great holiday weekend!

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    Heidi Thorne 4 years ago from Chicago Area

    Well, mjkearn, I will now be on the lookout for those water pistol-packin' folks in the audience. At least the comic relief would be memorable. ;) Thanks for checking in! Have a great weekend!

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    Heidi Thorne 4 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hello Gypsy48! Yep, I usually have my little sippy cup with me. But I can definitely say that I've ditched drinking a whole lot just to make sure I'm on point at all times. Thanks for chiming in and happy holiday weekend!

  • heidithorne profile image
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    Heidi Thorne 4 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hello purl3agony! I so remember those days in corporate America where I needed to be ready for those impromptu meetings. Same for events, especially conventions. I've been pulled aside after some presentations for a quick on-camera interview with the expo managers. Guess we should call it ABC: Always Be Camera-Ready. Thanks for comments and have a great holiday weekend!

  • heidithorne profile image
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    Heidi Thorne 4 years ago from Chicago Area

    Thanks, billybuc, for your kind comments! Hope you're enjoying the holiday weekend!

  • amandajoyshapiro profile image

    amandajoyshapiro 4 years ago

    You made a great article. Having given some presentations where eating before hand was offered (and would be the only meal for a few hours), I had to take part. Drinking water throughout, instead of soda or alcohol, definitely kept my throat cleansed. But temperature is also a concern: nothing too hot or cold.

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    mjkearn 4 years ago

    Hi Heidi

    Great tips and advice for public speakers. Now just one thought and not that I would, but what if some member of the audience has brought a water pistol, LOL.

    MJ.

  • Gypsy48 profile image

    Gypsy48 4 years ago

    You hit the nail on the head with the five easy speaking tips. They should be followed. When I used to work and attend these events I would barely sip water just to be on the safe side. Voted up.

  • purl3agony profile image

    Donna Herron 4 years ago from USA

    I agree that most of these tips are good reminders for any business situation. I worked for an organization that did executive trainings. At these events, I never knew when I might get pulled into an unplanned meeting, have a have a meal with a board member, or doing a quick presentation. In a business setting, it's always best to be on your toes and prepared for anything :) Thanks for the great hub!!

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

    What a clever title and subject for an article. You have found your niche and I love watching you develop it. :)

  • heidithorne profile image
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    Heidi Thorne 4 years ago from Chicago Area

    Thanks, Emilybee! This is such an overlooked area in the speaking and event arena. After yet another event situation lately, I decided to get the word out. Have a terrific weekend!

  • emilybee profile image

    emilybee 4 years ago

    Such great tips, that could be used in many social settings where you are the entertainer. Eating before helps and eating with only a fork, great tips :)