Ease dry mouth – public speaking

When author Eleanor Catton was named the youngest winner – aged 28 – of the £50,000 Man Booker Prize for her epic novel The Luminaries, she was gobsmacked. 

How would you respond?

Although Catton recovered her composure to make a graceful speech, she said she was hit by a “white wall” to hear her name read out. She rose from her table at the black-tie dinner with “dry mouth and trembling knees” according to The Australian newspaper.

Some tips for when you accept YOUR award

Dry mouth is exacerbated by throat tension. To relieve it:

 Drop your jaw and rub the underside of your tongue against the inside of your teeth. This activates the lubricating saliva glands.

• Press the tip of your tongue on the hard palate near the teeth ridge.

 Subtle sucking movements promote saliva. 

 Imagine the taste of lemon juice or vinegar. 

 Simulate yawns  (subtle social yawns, rather than alienate listeners).

A dehydrated performer’s responses become sluggish if fluid is not maintained.

In a “normal” day we need at least eight glasses of water – but increase this for periods of stress. Yes, I know what you’re thinking… you don’t want to haunt the bathroom.

We’re talking HABITS here!  Drink plenty of water in those pressured weeks, days, the morning of a presentation. Ease back in the hours and minutes before, perhaps simply taking a sip before walking onto the platform.

(Excerpt from my book Speak Out – Don’t freak out now available as eBook.)

And the shakes? More on this next time.

Short vs. long?

While known and loved writers sell doorstopper size novels, the novice is advised to submit 90,000 words (or better, 80,000). Yet Catton won with a novel ten times that length. Chair of judges, Robert Macfarlane, said “Length never poses a problem if it’s a great novel.” Take heart, authors. Edit, polish, hone your skills and polish, polish.

Speaking short

My writing journey was encouraged to be chosen as one of five authors to pitch their manuscripts before a panel of publishers at Byron Bay Writers Festival. How to condense all that passion and enthusiasm for an absorbing story into FIVE minutes? It was a challenging learning curve, even for an experienced speaker and I’m very grateful for the opportunity. I’ll tell you more next time.

Tips to shine in the spotlight

Whether you present through words or music, try this quick-fix tip to boost public performance for


That sea of faces in an auditorium, or colleagues around a board-room table, or even a confronting one-on-one situation – all can be stressful.


…fronts a mic on the PR trail to read their work at a festival or launch.

The MUSICIAN faces an audition, first night or exam.

When examining,the first thing I do to put nervous players at ease is offer them a glass of water. As well as giving them time to relax and regroup, it makes a surprising difference to accuracy and poise!

Under the spotlight, our systems, multiple signals buzz from brain to body. And the electrical and chemical actions of the brain and the central nervous system are conducted by fluid.

Our bodies are made up of about 70 percent water; this is an excellent conductor of electrical energy, necessary to efficiently pass messages between the central nervous system, brain and sensory organs.

In a “normal” day we need at least eight glasses of water – but this should be increased to see us through periods of stress.

A dehydrated performer’s responses become sluggish if fluid is not maintained.

During challenging times, increased water intake improves:

• concentration

• mental and physical co-ordination

• it alleviates mental fatigue

• increases energy levels

• relaxes for improved communication

• it keeps our brain firing.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking! 

The down-side is frequent visits to the bathroom – another nuisance symptom of performance nerves. Many notice that nerves increase their frequency of urination. Why? The smooth muscle of the genito-urinary system contracts when our sympathetic system is activated. Increased adrenaline rush and resulting cardiac racing can cause diuresis. Such issues are eased if we learn to channel that adrenaline away from such symptoms into energy.

We’re talking HABITS here – the weeks and days before performing

Drink plenty of water earlier in the day, then limit the fluid intake in the hour before performing to avoid the need to go to the bathroom. If necessary, relieve mouth dryness with rinses or gargling. 

from Confident Music Performance

Singers and speakers need to maintain hydration of the vocal folds.

Don’t Freak Out – Speak Out advises:

• Increase water intake. Adopt the singer’s maxim, “pee pale, speak clear”.

• Rehydrate the vocal folds with steam inhalations and a humidifier.

• Humidify your bedroom or work environment, especially during winter.

On-stage, I like to have a water bottle discreetly at hand for a sip between music pieces or movements. This eases another problem that besets performers; dry mouth.


“Water is the only drink for a wise man.” Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)

OK, after all your preparation you deserve to unwind with a drink  – after the performance.


You only get one chance…

…To make a first impression. What will that be, positive or negative? Memorable or ho hum? It must be the best we can craft, for it will last.

AS A READER – do you judge a book by its cover?

In a book shop a cover or title sparks our eye. We skim-read the back cover, then open at the first page, taste a few pars. This is usually enough to decide if we want to spend time with that author and that story. We lead busy lives and throw aside a boring book.
In my writing, of books, articles and speeches, I seek a tantalising hook.
As a musician, I focus on a wonderful entry of sound.

FOR WRITERS: How to hook publishers and readers

Authors hear horror stories that a publisher may read a precious manuscript for one page – at best – before rejecting it. Make that a paragraph, even the first sentence. Poetic flights of imagination in chapter two are lost if people don’t read that far.

We sweat over our opening phrase, for it has to catch the reader’s eye, prick interest.

My past decade has been absorbed writing a narrative nonfiction around family stories which morphed into memoir. I’ve changed the starting point many times; different chapters took their turn to usher potential readers into my story. My writing buddy switched on a light-bulb when she suggested ‘Play your strongest card first.’ I wrote a new chapter, praying for a ‘killer opening sentence.’ But before submitting to an editor, I still polish these pages, the voice, the tone – to ensure it will be read!


My music student is delighted with her recent exam results – perhaps because her lesson before was one of those frustrating ones. You know the type? The teacher spends half the lesson on the first line of the first movement. ‘What about the modern work, the rhythms and ensembles are so tricky!’ I hear her think. True. But I know that if she can catch the examiner’s ears, start strongly, she will ride through further difficulties on a wave of confidence. For didn’t we spend the past months smoothing out such issues?

AS A PERFORMER: (picking up my clarinet)

Carl Maria von Weber wrote some of the clarinet’s most satisfying repertoire. His second clarinet concerto asks the soloist to make a loud dramatic opening on a top note. In this case, I attack it with the fingering that speaks easy and safe, with no risk of squawk.

Yet Weber asks me to creep in on a subtle pianissimo in his other two works for solo clarinet. To avoid an undertone on this most vulnerable, touchy note, I need just the right angle of instrument and just the right reed. Before a recent performance my practice alternated a dozen reeds, narrowing down to a few in the pre-concert rehearsal in the venue. Obsessive? Possibly. But it pays off, because I know if the first note sings out beautifully, the rest of the performance will flow with ease. I can relax and enjoy the music.


As an adjudicator I see and hear the value of a positive first impression. As I wrote in my book Confident Music Performance:

A positive opening is crucial The first notes or words are very important for your own confidence and the audience’s appraisal of you. If your initial sound is squeezed out with strangled tension or a miscalculated projection, your stomach will plummet. You will think, ‘Oh no, this is going to be a fiasco!’

If that first note or word sings out beautifully modulated with seemingly effortless ease, your confidence will soar with it. First impressions linger in listeners’ appraisals. In most auditions, a few seconds are enough to tell the panel if they are interested in the applicant. When I adjudicate, I notice constantly that a player’s control of their first note or lack of it is usually indicative of their whole performance. On the other hand, if you suffer an initial mishap, don’t give up. Many players warm into their presentations.


When I coach people with their presentation, we may spend two-thirds of the time working on their opening sentence. We reword it for arresting impact and to avoid words that may stutter. We identify crucial words to colour with voice tone; to highlight with a pause and breath. We practise delivery and projection to increase impact.

From Don’t Freak Out – Speak Out: Public speaking with confidence

The public speaker must capture the audience in that first tantalising sentence. Many listeners give undivided attention only at the beginning and end of a speech. Choose your opening gambit with care, condensing into it your most arresting statement or an intriguing question, a quotation or startling fact, or a story. People of all ages love stories, but they must be relevant.
If your take-off is smooth the rest of the flight usually flows with fewer bumps. Navigate your course with a clear focus on the horizon – your audience – rather than dwell inward on your own queasy stomach and sensitive ego. Most fears are self-centred. Keep looking out! Most listeners will empathise with your agonies but would prefer not to suffer along with you. They are there to enjoy themselves, to be enlightened, provoked or touched by your content. Rather than wish you ill, they want you to succeed. Adopt a friendly face from the audience and pretend she is your grandmother in whose eyes you can do no wrong. Speak to her.


Whether we present words or music, read or spoken, never underestimate the power of a positive opening. Our listeners and readers respond to those first moments; if they are arresting, powerful, beautiful, we hold our audience in the palm of our hand.



The Joys of Communication

Welcome to my debut blog. If you communicate with words or music this is for you.


My dear friend died recently, a few months short of his century. He was like a father to me. By that age communication was limited. But I cherish memories of our last meeting, when I played my clarinet for him as I did for my mother in her hospital bed. Some Mozart, but mostly the old-timer songs and hymns they knew well. My gift of sound reached to their remaining faculties.


Our digital age sacrifices as much as it gains. How many conversations are two-way? We spit words out into the ether – to what response? But pick up the phone and we hear voice nuance. When we talk over coffee or via Skype we relate with multiple faculties. When I met a friend Peter at a café he could barely talk through bad laryngitis. We updated by writing on his iPad. But laughter, facial and body language compensated for his voice.

The reason we have two ears and only one mouth, is that we may hear more and speak less. (Greek philosopher Zeno, 335 BC – 264 BC)


How acutely do we listen? We can learn much if we listen back to a recording.

Musicians note uneven passagework and erratic rhythms or intonation.

Speakers, we hear, don’t we, the frequent ‘um’ or up-talk, the tendency to rush.

A pre-presentation recording helps us note and avoid words that stutter or stumble. In the writing stage of a presentation, I tape record while walking by my creek or along a beach. The words flow more naturally than when sitting at the computer keyboard. I can then transcribe it and edit further. ‘It is solved by walking’ wrote St Augustine. (Many use dictation software; my efforts to train it are still at the bolshy toddler stage.)

Authors, if we read aloud our manuscript we discover that clunky phrasing, those convoluted sentences, the reiteration of words.

Teachers, challenge your students to tape-record or video some of their practice. Together you can discuss whether they use their time to improve or merely reinforce mistakes.

CAUTION: Recording can daunt. If we listen back immediately after a performance or presentation when still in a sensitised state, we will be appalled by our mistakes. Wait a week so objectivity can temper such reactions. We need balance and to be kind to ourselves. Give credit for how effectively we expressed that phrase.

 ENJOY BEAUTIFUL MUSIC – with the faculties we are given

It’s inspiring that international percussionist Evelyn Glennie is deaf, yet she lives a busy productive career.

“Except for a few minor inconveniences, I am not disabled from achieving anything in my career or private life. How then do the terms ‘Disabled’ or ‘Deaf’ really apply to me? In short, they don’t, not even the ‘Hearing Impaired’ label works because in some respects my hearing is superior to the average non-impaired person. I simply hear in a different way to most people.”

Read more: https://www.evelyn.co.uk/Resources/Essays/Disability%20Essay.pdf

 THE BOTTOM LINE: Does our communication diminish others – or uplift them?