Sleep Before You Speak

present with people Jul 08, 2024
No Sleep Jitters




I am an extrovert.

This past Valentine’s Day marked the 20th anniversary of my wife saying “Yes” after I got down on one knee and asked her to marry me. I was in San Jose, CA, for a work event, and being apart was a bummer.

Fortunately, some of my colleagues were also away from their wives, and after dinner, they invited me to hang out back at the hotel. We found a table in a courtyard and spent the next several hours talking, telling stories, and laughing. My head hit the pillow around 2:30 AM.

About a week earlier, my colleague Heidy had asked me to speak at the end of the event. I reviewed the notes of previous speakers and put my own spin on the short talk. I had rehearsed the talk with a few coworkers whom I trust to give honest feedback and who had previously been in the speaking slot I was about to fill. The content was good, and I was ready to rock.


6:30 AM arrived quickly. Fortunately, I had laid out my clothes the night before. I showered, dressed, fixed my hair, and struggled against heavy eyelids to get my contacts in place.

Did I mention that I don’t drink caffeine? I stopped drinking caffeine in 2016 because it exacerbated my anxiety.

I stumbled out of my hotel room with my backpack and suitcase and zig-zagged my way to my Ford Explorer rental. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a Starbucks. I considered my usual order: Triple Venti DECAF Latte, extra hot. I recalled my heavy eyelids and the sections of my talk that required energy. “Regular Triple Venti Latte, extra hot, please!”




I made it to the morning meeting a few seconds late, most of the latte coursing through my veins, after treating speed limit signs as mere suggestions. The meeting ended, and I had about an hour until showtime. I opened my computer to review the notes for my talk and quickly realized I needed a table. Trying to read my computer while it was on my lap was impossible, and not just because I’m over 40 and have started to need reading glasses. My legs were vibrating, and trying to read my notes was threatening to make me seasick.

I found a high-top table that could steadily hold my computer, and having finished my latte, I started in on water. Maybe that would help.

It did…an hour or so after my talk.

Showtime. I grabbed the wireless handheld microphone, already not my ideal situation because I gesticulate a lot when I speak. In this scenario, it was even worse because my lack of sleep combined with my body trying to figure out what to do with three shots of espresso had my hands shaking. I was at serious risk of knocking a tooth.

Heidy stepped up to introduce me, and I was fully into negative self-talk. “You idiot. You knew you’d have to talk. You spent so much time preparing for this. Your content is good, but you’re a sleepy but somehow vibrating mess. You’re gonna suck.”

Claps. That’s my cue.

I gave that talk. It was a solid C on average, with some bits that were better and a few that were worse. I was robotic on stage. My jokes didn’t work because my timing was off.

I was at a similar event in Houston a few weeks ago. Heidy did not invite me to speak again.

I’m not the best speaker out there, but I speak in front of groups on a pretty regular basis. I’m usually able to get some laughs and make people think. I’m not saying that if I were well-rested, my talk would have been a slam dunk, but I think it could have been at least a B+.

Preparation for speaking with people is more than just knowing the audience and crafting content. Preparation is more than editing and rehearsal. All of those things are important. Successfully speaking with people also depends on your health. Being well-rested gives you the energy and focus you need to succeed. Eating well boosts your mood and your energy and helps eliminate any distracting bubble gut your nerves may give you.

Don’t waste all your preparation by not taking care of your body before you speak.

By Matt Murphy - COO, Stadia

Matt lives in Maryland with is wife, two kids, and dog named Ravenclaw. In his free time, he consults for non-profit organizations.