I was giving a guest lecture about the importance of storytelling in business. The room felt a little warm, but I didn't think much of it... that is, until about seven minutes in when I started to feel the distinct sensation of soggy fabric against my armpits.
"No big deal," I thought. "Just don't make big gestures." But then I felt the subtle drip down my sternum that all women dread. Sweat rapidly created two, very dark royal blue 'smiles' on the front of my blouse and, like the hyper-colored clothes of my childhood my shirt continued to change color until it was completely soaked.
Sometimes, despite your best preparation efforts, once you get in front of the room it's your body that fails you. Here are four embarrassing ways your body can betray you during a presentation and what to do about it.
Body Fail #1: Your body starts sweating... a lot
It's not news that stress can induce sweating. But that news doesn't make the visible evidence any less embarrassing. If you sweat under pressure, plan for it. Go sleeveless, or wear a suit or sport coat; yes, it will make you warmer, but it can mask the wetness. Carry a hanky in your pocket to dab your temples.
Unfortunately, I had no backup plan that sweaty day. After noticing how embarrassed the audience was for me, I decided to address the issue. "Before I go any further, some of you may have noticed that I am sweating..." I said with a smile. "Don't worry, I know and I'm ok with it. I caught a quick spin class before coming here... guess I shouldn't have worked so hard."
We all had a good laugh and moved on.
Body Fail #2: Your mouth goes as dry as the Sahara
Several minutes into his commentary on the State of the Union Address, Republican Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio's mouth had gone completely dry. He desperately reached off screen to take a sip of speech-saving water. With scrutiny at an all-time high, it became the ultimate body fail.
Stress induced dry-mouth can creep up on even the most seasoned speakers; so don't be too hard on yourself it happens to you. Just be prepared. Keep a glass of water in a nearby, easily accessible location (not a location where you have to awkwardly crouch down to reach it).
Additionally, a little self-talk can go a long way. If you feel the ominous, uncomfortable tickle in the back of your throat, remind yourself there's nothing to be nervous about and the saliva will start flowing again.
Body Fail #3: Your hands won't stop shaking
Shaky hands in a presentation is a clear and unwanted signal of fear. The good news is, the tremble is hard to see... unless you're holding something. Outsmart wobbly palms by putting everything down. Don't hold notes, leave the pen on the podium, and request a lavaliere microphone verses a handheld.
Body Fail #4: Your mind goes blank
You've prepared for weeks and could recite your speech in your sleep (literally). Yet, half way through your presentation... it all disappears. You barely know your own name, much less the next point. Don't worry, it happens to the best of them (think Mariah Carey drawing a blank on New Year's Eve).
Should your cache unexpectedly clear on stage, follow these two simple steps, in this order, immediately.
First, embrace the silence instead of fighting it. Settling into the pause allows your brain to buffer and the audience will likely think the break is supposed to be there.
Second, as you're pausing, remind yourself the gap is not nearly as long as it seems. A 3 sec glitch feels like an eternity to you but will go unnoticed by anyone else.
Sometimes, no matter how much you prepare, it's your body that get the best of you. Use this as a guide to outsmart biology and wow the room.