Sneeze Season: How to Present When You’re Sick

Flu season is a doozy. And it seems that the strains this year are harder than ever to kick! That means a lingering cough, nasal tone and not enough rest can really impact how you communicate in your next meeting. While it would be nice to reschedule, sometimes that’s just not possible.

If you’re battling symptoms while presenting (hopefully at least no longer contagious), here are a few recommendations beyond, “drink lots of water:”

  • 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 a 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.
  • SmileEven if it doesn’t feel authentic.

Everyone’s got their own tricks for battling through a presentation when they’re not feeling so hot, what are yours?

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