Sneeze Season: How to Present When You’re Sick

Sneeze Season: Migraine Emoji

A few weeks back I had to fend off cold/migraine as I gutted my way through a lengthy presentation. It would have been nice to reschedule. Sometimes that’s just not possible.

You, too, may find yourself having to battle your symptoms while presenting. Beyond “drink lots of fluids,” here are some of our recommendations:

• Do not start the talk by saying “Sorry, I feel sick.” I realize it’s tempting to introduce yourself this way. Doing so is a bit like saying you feel nervous: it’s successful in garnering audience empathy, but unsuccessful in convincing them of your message. You don’t want people focused on your cough rather than your message.

Be aware of the fact that due to congestion, you can no longer accurately gauge your volume. Before your talk, have someone (a friend, conference volunteer, whomever) head to the back of the room. Keep decreasing your volume until they can no longer hear you. Take mental note of that volume and always try to exceed it. Feel free to play with variations, too, i.e. “Do I sound excited enough?”

• Time how long you can maintain energy. If you can’t go 15 minutes without coughing, plan some sort of break every ten minutes: a video clip, audience interaction, even an actual break. If you’re wearing a mic, remember to switch it off for a second, cough, then turn it back on.

• Finish early. I have never, ever heard someone complain about a talk going short. It will probably make you feel better, too.

• Smile. Even if it doesn’t feel authentic.

What are some of your tips for battling through a presentation when you’re not feeling so hot?

Have you seen it done well? Poorly?

2 comments on “Sneeze Season: How to Present When You’re Sick

  1. In addition to your excellent suggestions, I find it very important to utilize the breath to support your voice. This is an excellent way to reduce the likelihood of becoming vocally fatigued or having your voice crack during a long speech when you are ill. The additional vocal resonance in areas that are not congested is a nice side benefit. And, taking an effective congestion-reducing medication like Mucinex prior to presenting can really help too.

  2. Timely advice! Presenters will also want to try to mask the symptoms with a trusted cold and sinus medication, as well as having plenty of water nearby, in case of being on the brink of a nasty coughing episode.