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Presentation/Speaker Tip by Chris Reich

Important Tip for Making That Big Presentation

I have a tip that will shock and surprise you. You won’t read it anywhere else. It might be the most important tip you ever read if you do a lot of presenting.

Does your throat ever feel a little congested before you take the stage? Have you ever felt a little hoarse after speaking for a long time? That happens when we are called upon to conduct trainings. I know my throat feels raw after speaking for a full day and I sometimes dread the second day of a two-day class.

Stress can add to your throat feeling tight. Fear or anxiety can give us the proverbial “lump in the throat” feeling. Emotional drain is the source of the common “lump in the throat”. 

I’ve had clients express fear of things like cancer because they feel actual constriction in the throat.

You may not have it quite that bad, but regardless of the degree of throat congestion you feel, I would bet you are doing something very harmful to your throat. This is so harmful, you might cause permanent damage to your vocal chords.

What is it?

Clearing your throat.

Don’t scoff. This is serious medical advice. Unless you have a hunk of rubber chicken from lunch trapped in your windpipe, do not clear your throat.

You will say, “come on, I just need to clear my throat before starting my speech.” Throat clearing is like eating one potato chip. You can’t, and won’t, just do it once. You may form a habit. You have seen people who are constantly clearing their throat? That’s because clearing the throat makes it worse and spurs a need to again clear the throat.

Okay, this sounds like I’m making a big deal over a small thing. I’m not.

I recently had a very severe bout of hoarseness after doing a lot of speaking at various events and while serving as an interim executive of a company. During a routine dental exam, the dentist asked if he could examine my neck. After feeling around he said, “I think you should see your doctor right away.” That scared the hell out of me.

My doctor performed a thorough exam and then said, “you feel a lump in your throat?” “Yes,” I replied.
“You clear your throat often.”  “Yes, I do,” I told him.
“Stop clearing your throat and this will clear up,” he told me.

Every time we clear our throat, we grind our vocal chords together. Even once or twice before speaking is bad. How bad? Bad enough to do damage. Clear your throat before speaking and you’ll be more hoarse after your speech than had you not cleared your throat.

What to do instead?

  • Drink warm coffee or tea (without milk)
  • Take a cough lozenge
  • Suck a hard candy (my method of choice)
  • Drink some water if nothing else is available

There is a neat product called “Entertainer’s Secret”. It’s expensive but it works.

This may seem like I’m making a big deal of a small thing. Seriously, if you must make an important presentation or conduct a long training, do not clear your throat. You’ll make it worse and do damage.

Don’t believe me? See if you can fight the urge to clear your throat. If you can’t, you have a problem. The habit is formed. Drink a little water and resist. Within days you’ll see a big improvement in your voice and voice stamina.

And if you have a worrisome “lump in the throat”? Get it checked—you’re probably fine. And then stop clearing your throat. My voice cleared up quickly.

Let me reinforce this tip. Don’t clear your voice in advance of an important presentation. Remember, many things contribute to that “lump in the throat” feeling. Stress, fear, fatigue, and allergies can give you some mucus in the throat. Don’t clear your throat as that grinds the vocal chords and leads to the production of more mucus. Drink something or take a hard candy.

Protect your voice. As a great speaker and presenter, you’ll need it!

Chris Reich, Presentation Specialist and Speaker Instructor