When you look back at some of Steve Jobs’ seminal product presentations, you’ll notice that he would often pause for a moment to take a drink of water. For a long time, he was about the only presenter who did this. But if you look at old videos of great raconteurs like Dave Allen and Peter Ustinov, you’ll see they often took a strategic sip every so often too. Why? What can taking a drink do for you in your presenting?
When you present, you’re under a lot of pressure. Everything within your sensory perceptions narrows – your visual field, your hearing, your spatial awareness. You might feel you need a drink, but your body is pumping adrenalin round your body to get you through. If you’re not in the present moment, if you’re not aware of what’s going on around you, you can quickly start to lose your connection with your audience.
Say, for example, there’s a noise outside. Perhaps a drill is rattling away in a room nearby. Or maybe someone in the audience is having a coughing fit. A door is repeatedly slamming, or a plane is flying loud and low overhead. Perhaps there’s a distracting noise coming from a speaker system, or the room is obviously too hot or too cold.
These are all elements which, in an ordinary interaction, you would want to draw attention to, discuss, find a solution to (‘Is it just me or is it hot in here? Does anyone know where the switch is?’). But if you’re not fully present in the moment, you’re not aware of what’s around you – and your audience will pick up on this. Failing to notice or acknowledge a distraction creates a disconnect. It’s as if you’re telling your audience that you’re not with them. That you’re not even inhabiting the same world as them.
Enter the drink of water. It does so many things. Ideally you will have placed your glass somewhere a little out of the way, so that you have to take a few steps to reach your glass. And this -- the reaching and the sipping -- helps to return you to the present moment. It grounds you. It’s as if you are saying to your audience: I am here with you. We are in the same world, the same state of mind, the same timeframe. I am talking -- talking to you! -- but my mouth is dry. And your audience starts to relax and feel a little bit more connected to you. They are happy to see you sip.
That drink of water keeps you in the moment, and it tells your audience that you are OK. That shows connection. It genuinely does ease your throat too, of course, which feels good. It gives you a moment to gather your thoughts, to assess how things are going and reflect on where you want to go next. That shows control and assurance. And the audience appreciates the odd little break too, of course, so it also shows respect.
When you’re really in your stride, you can use the drink as a way to play for time when considering a tricky question, or as a way to add a dash of dramatic suspense to your presentation. Not bad for a harmless drop of water…