Shall you drink to become a better public speaker?

Each time I run a public speaking workshop, I get at least one: “Shall I drink to get less nervous before my speech?” question. I counted more than 50 in my DMs as well. Have you thought of that too? Here is probably one of the most thought-through answers to that!
Hi there! I am Gregory Balon, managing partner in BEsmart communications studio. We help people to make their ideas heard by enhancing communication and presentation skills. Today with Tamara Kobozeva, our product manager, we are unfolding one of the biggest mysteries in public speaking.

Alcohol might actually help

Indeed, almost all of us have the experience of feeling high after a drink. People immediately start to like you, and it is easier to make friends.

But is it good advice to turn to Dutch courage before communicating? Leaving prejudice aside, we decided to find out if there is any scientific data confirming drunk people socialize better.

Disputes and research on this topic have been going on for a long time and have not lost their relevance. According to a 2012 study by a group of psychologists:

  • People mostly have fun when they get drunk, and their mood improves (there was no scientific evidence of this before)
  • People are better engaged in communication — they talk to each other more often. They express fewer negative emotions.

Will alcohol help with stage fear?

Our social anxiety is highly connected with the fear of being judged. A shame of a sort. Alcohol lets us loose and helps to get rid of those fears.

Fear of public speaking is basically social anxiety that is dialed to the max and multiplied by the amount of attention we are getting simultaneously. It might seem like alcohol can help us fight this discomfort. It seems now there's even scientific evidence for sipping a little bit of wine for confidence before you go on stage.

But there are bad news

Though fighting anxiety, a couple of drops of something strong can make you a worse public speaker. This was proven by German researchers, who compared public speaking skills evaluation for two groups of people. All of them were equally anxious about public speaking. One group was given some alcohol before the performance. Others just got orange juice.

Evaluators rated the sober group higher by all criteria, including social performance and conversation flow.

If that is not enough, here is more to come. Another risk is that all alcoholic beverages are harming our voice box. Both carbonated drinks like beer or champagne and liquors are harmful to vocal cords because they cause irritation of the mucous. Combine that with the dry mouth that is caused by stress and discomfort, pain and a funny voice are guaranteed.

The only acceptable drink for our voice is white wine. It causes much less irritation and dryness. But there is another problem.

The study indicates that listeners easily recognize tipsy speakers by their voice, even if there are no obvious outward signs of alcohol intoxication. So, it might not be the best idea to drink even a small amount of alcohol before any important speech.

How to actually get less anxious?

To drink or not to drink? Well, we are certain that you can do it without a drink. There are other ways of fighting anxiety. They are much less risky, though a bit more time-consuming. Proper structure, dry runs, and enough preparation all decrease the amount of stress significantly. And studying public speaking skills can help you find a sustainable approach to fighting stress.

We experimented a couple of years ago to measure how practicing public speaking influences stress levels during speech. We started our standard public speaking course simultaneously with two groups. The only difference was the amount of extra practice we gave one of the batches. We measured stress levels before and after the course and noticed that the group with more practice had 24% lower stress levels on average compared to the standard one in the end. So, maybe consider practicing more instead of shots before?

Though we do not recommend you drink before the speech, we can’t stop you from raising your glasses after a successful performance. And are certain you will get one soon.


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