Supercompetent Speaking: 7 Tips for Tip-Top Performance on Stage

These are tips for the real basics: the little things that can make you look like a squirmy kid or a well-dressed zombie on the platform.

By Laura Stack, MBA, CSP

With everything you have to remember before making a presentation—from doing your homework to polishing your body language and timing—it can be easy to forget about some of the nuances, such as physical pre-preparations.

I don’t mean your deep breathing exercises or that brisk pre-presentation walk intended to take the edge off your nervousness. No, I’m talking about the real basics: the little things that can make you look like a squirmy kid or a well-dressed zombie on the platform. Some can even cause the sort of accidental embarrassment a teenage boy might find amusing, but it would zero out your credibility in the room.

I suspect you’re beginning to get the picture.

Tip-Top Performance

Proper self-care contributes to the kind of vitality and flexibility that communicates your enthusiasm to the audience, helping you sell your idea or product. Keep these tips in mind to maintain your healthy edge as you step onto the platform:

  1. Sleep well. Get a good night’s sleep the night before the presentation. Don’t stay up late to catch the end of that Law and Order episode, celebrate that you’re out of town, or finish your latest book proposal. If you have trouble sleeping, take a warm bath, play soft music, or drink some warm milk (it really does work). Insufficient sleep can slow your thinking and make you sluggish, even if you manage not to yawn on stage.
  2. Avoid alcohol. I’d highly recommend you don’t drink anything alcoholic the day before a big presentation. Even if you’re giving a dinner speech, stick to water, herbal tea, or juice. Not only can alcohol give you a hangover, it also can lead to dehydration and all its negative effects on the stage—headaches, nausea, dry mouth—not a good way to make a great impression. Sure, you might be able to fake it, and the audience won’t know the difference, but you will, and it will affect your performance.
  3. Can the caffeine. Limit your intake the evening before, to ensure the good night’s sleep we started off with. But more important is to manage your intake on presentation day, so you don’t get jittery. It’s hard to control the dosage, especially when someone else makes the coffee, and you want neither the high nor the crash to hit while you’re up on stage. Caffeine also acts as a diuretic, pulling water out of your system. Not only do you not need the dehydration factor, you don’t need the distraction of a full bladder in front of an audience.
  4. Exercise a little. Take that brisk walk, or do some other form of brief but vigorous exercise so your metabolism revs up by the time you’re on the platform (much better than caffeine). You’ll have a natural energy boost and will feel great. Don’t exercise too hard too close to your presentation, or you’ll be perspiring on stage.
  5. Hydrate yourself. Drink ample water and non-caffeinated beverages before the presentation, so you don’t have to drink much during the presentation. Constant movement, speaking, and the lights will draw the moisture right out of you.
  6. Avoid spicy and sugary foods. During the lead-up to a presentation, bland is your friend. Don’t experiment with spicy new dishes or cuisines, and steer clear of gassy foods such as beans, breads, and pasta. You don’t want your gurgling stomach to attract more attention than your main point. Wait until after your presentation to reward yourself with a taco or ice cream cone. Watch your sugar intake, because after the sugar rush comes the sugar crash, suddenly depleting your energy.
  7. Eat lightly. You need all your energyfor quick, sharp thinking and lively movement during your presentation, so don’t force your body to spend some of it on digesting a large meal. There’s a reason you feel drowsy after stuffing yourself, and you don’t need that or any of the associated stomach noises on stage. I bring protein shakes to quickly mix up an hour before speaking. When paired with a banana, it’s the perfect combination for a one-hour keynote.

Last, it almost goes without saying, but I must. Go to the restroom 15 minutes before you go on stage, after you turn off your microphone.

Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, is an expert in productivity. For more than 20 years, her speeches have helped entrepreneurs, leaders, teams, and organizations improve output, lower stress, and save time at work and in life. Her company, The Productivity Pro, Inc., provides time management workshops around the globe that help attendeesachieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time. Stack is the author of five bestselling productivity books, with more than 20 foreign editions, published by Random House, Wiley, and Berrett-Koehler, most recently “What to Do When There’s Too Much to Do.” Her newest work, “Execution IS the Strategy,” hits bookstores in spring 2014. Connect with her at;; or

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