Occasionally you hear advice to take a shot to calm the nerves before a stressful occasion. There are several reasons this might not be the best advice for public speaking. It dulls your wit and makes you slower ‘on your feet’. Both are of great benefit for public speaking. Clearly, imbibing more is going to lead to bad public speaking. Alcohol also contributes to dry mouth and even bad breath (halitosis). If those weren’t enough, we can add a new reason thanks to recent research.
Normally your fears lessen after every speaking experience, but a recent study suggests that might not be the case if alcohol is involved. The research, published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, suggests that alcohol stops a particular pathway of processing of experiences of fears. This is the mechanism that Psychologists use to help patients overcome phobias, like glossophobia, through controlled exposure. Essentially it stops you from learning not to fear the situation. Instead of speaking getting easier, you’ll continue experiences your high levels of fear indefinitely.
So, while your ‘shot of courage’ might get you onto stage, it may also block the mechanism that leads to lessening of your fear. You’re trading off a mild momentary relief for continual agony. The choice is yours, but the benefits of abstaining before your talk are clear. If you really want to mix alcohol and public speaking, leave the alcohol for after the great toast you’ll give.