Rinse and Repeat

Remember JSB’s post about public speaking? Well, before an exciting opportunity two weeks ago, I reread his tips a gazillion times. What he failed to mention was a bizarre side effect of stress—dry mouth. I noticed it when I did my first Zoom book signing. Which is odd, right? I’ve never had a problem with in-person book signings, but on Zoom? I dried up like the Sahara. Halfway through the event it went away, so I didn’t give it another thought. I Zoomed a few more times without incident.

And then, an Emmy award-winning true crime series asked me to appear on their show. (Can’t tell you which one yet, sorry!) I was fine on the drive over. Nervous as all heck, but other than a thundering heartbeat, I could hide my anxiety. After all, that’s what a professional does. They don’t let nerves get the better of them. Plus, I knew this case inside out. How hard could it be? So what if a camera crew would be focused on me.

My confidence waned on the walk inside, but I was still holding my own. Head held high, shoulders back.

Then I sat in the interview chair.

With that one simple act, all the saliva in my mouth turned to dust. And I mean all of it. My tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth, my lips puckered, and words refused to roll off my tongue with ease. Me on the day of my debut TV appearance…

They offered me bottled water—gallons of it through two and half hours of taping. After the second or third bottle, I think they might’ve figured out I wasn’t an old pro at this TV stuff. 😉 Thankfully, I’d spoken to the producer on the phone several times prior, so he had faith in me. “Get her more water please!” And I drank, and drank, and drank.

Mr. Producer told me several times I did an excellent job. I’ll be the judge of that, thank you…in six months when the episode airs. We did have a lot of laughs. But when you’re discussing a shooting and can’t spit out the word “caliber” because your tongue feels like it’s three sizes too big for your mouth…

Well, let’s just say it isn’t a good look. The more I stressed, the drier my mouth became. Throughout the interview I fluctuated between Lord, give me strength and Someone—anyone—please shoot me! But most of all, I needed more water STAT.

On the plus side, the nice part of working on a true crime show is it’s not taped in front a live audience. All I had to do was string together one good sentence at a time and the editor would grab what s/he needs.

Mission accomplished. That’s a rap!

Shamefaced, I crawled into the passenger seat of our truck—and all at once my mouth regained its moisture. Ain’t that a b*tch? I can hardly wait to see what happens next time. Maybe I’ll grow some weird lump on my forehead. Or better yet, my saliva glands will over-stimulate, and I’ll show up looking like this…

I think it’s fair to say no one will ever ask me to do a TedTalk. Probably best.

To understand my body’s reaction to stress, I researched the subject the next morning to find out why this occurred and what to do about it in the future. Turns out, dry mouth isn’t an uncommon reaction.

Researchers have studied this phenomenon.

The term stress refers to a series of events that lead to a reaction in the brain (perceived stress), activating the physiological fight-or-flight response in the body. Anxiety is also a generalized unpleasant and vague sensation of fear and concern with an unknown origin.

Makes sense.

Psychological conditions might affect both salivary flow rate and xerostomia. Furthermore, it was observed that salivary cortisol levels increased during stress, followed by changes in the composition of saliva.

In simpler terms, stress plays a significant role in reducing the salivary flow rate.

So, what’s my advice in case you experience something similar? Hope you’ve got a nice strong bladder. You’ll need it to hold all the water. No, seriously, pack lozenges. If all else fails, smile! Works every time.

I’m a big believer in laughter. If we can’t poke fun at ourselves, we’ll dwell on the negative. I appeared on an Emmy award-winning true crime show (!), and have spoken to the producer several times since. For me, it’s a dream come true. 🙂

Let’s discuss embarrassing moments! Your turn. Extra points if it relates to writing, reading, acting, etc.

This entry was posted in #WritingCommunity, public speaking and tagged , , , by Sue Coletta. Bookmark the permalink.

About Sue Coletta

Sue Coletta is an award-winning crime writer and an active member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. Feedspot and Expertido.org named her Murder Blog as “Best 100 Crime Blogs on the Net” (2018-2021). She also blogs at the Kill Zone (Writer's Digest "101 Best Websites for Writers" 2013-2021). Sue lives with her husband and two spoiled guinea pigs in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire and writes two psychological thriller series (Tirgearr Publishing) and true crime/narrative nonfiction (Rowman & Littlefield). And recently, she appeared on the Emmy award-winning true crime series Storm of Suspicion, and will be a panelist at the 2021 New England Crime Bake. Learn more about Sue and her books at https://suecoletta.com

25 thoughts on “Rinse and Repeat

  1. Sue, thanks for the howls this morning, induced by your comments and well-chosen gifs! PLEASE let us know when your appearance airs.

    Embarrassing moments? Yes. Several decades ago I somehow found myself being considered as a candidate for a judicial position. The interview went really well, loose and friendly, and as it’s wrapping up, someone asked, semi-jokingly, “You don’t have any skeletons in the closet, do you?” and I replied jokingly but truthfully, “Closet?! I have GRAVEYARDS full!” The air went out of the room. I’m still waiting for a callback. They must have checked.

    Have a great day, Sue!

    • Hahahahahaha. Ah, well, they sound too stuffy for a fun-loving guy like you, Joe. I thought of you after the taping. Being in front of the camera isn’t as easy as it looks. I had a hard enough time just speaking. Acting? Forget about it. They’d toss me off the set. 😉

      Wishing you a great day, too!

  2. Sheesh, Sue! Though I’ve not suffered this particular affliction, I can understand the helpless feeling…for I had it an incident early in my acting days. I was in a “showcase,” which is a series of short scenes put on in a theater and to which agents and producers are invited. I was doing a scene from Michael Weller’s well-known play of the time, Moonchildren. It was a highly emotional scene, and we’d rehearsed and rehearsed and I was ready for my big moment!

    The scene began, and there was a point at which I was to take a bite of a dinner roll. I knew to take only a small bite to avoid muffling my next lines. Well, a small crumb of that roll lodged in my throat…and acted like some monstrous sponge sucking ALL the moister out of the area and, as a bonus, setting up shop on my larynx so I couldn’t make a sound. It was the most helpless, awful feeling I’ve ever had in my life. My poor scene mates are waiting for me to give them a cue, and I’m flapping my gums but nothing’s coming out. One of them improvised a line to buy me some time, and I finally wheezed something out, sounding not like the young, healthy college student I was supposed to be, but like some 90 year old patriarch on his death bed, uttering his final wishes.

    Shockingly, I received no offers from an agent or producer.

    • Hahahahahahaha!!! Thanks for sharing, Jim. Hilarious! I don’t know how actors remain so calm. The unknown played a big role for me. Now that I know what to expect, I should be able to calm the nerves a bit.

  3. In a junior high school production of Midsummer Night’s Dream, I had the dubious honor of being selected to play “Bottom” — the drama teacher must have hated me!

    For that role, I had to wear an awful-looking (and very smelly) ass’s head made of paper mache. Truly mortifying at age 13.

    I memorized my lines and didn’t flub. The audience laughed at the right times. They even clapped hard during my curtain call. Perhaps they felt sorry for a 13-year-old girl’s humiliation. But that role taught me the power of humor.

    Now when I speak to groups, I rejoice that I don’t have to wear an ass’s head.

  4. Sue, congratulations on being asked to be on a true crime series! And making it through! The next time it will be easier. Maybe ask your doc about taking some propranolol the next time.

    Most embarrassing moment: Public speaking ( hate it.) Chosen (coerced) into being the class speaker for high school graduation. Rehearsed my speech and carried a card with my outline. But, day of graduation, lost a contact. Had to wear a pair of ancient glasses. The ceremony was inside. Hot. Perspiration poured down my face. My graduation cap was off for the speech, and my hair was plastered down on my head like a greased rat. I made it through the speech, and didn’t know I should be embarrassed until I saw the pictures. To add injury to insult, the picture made it into the yearbook. I shudder, just thinking about it.

    Have an embarrassment free week!

    • Hahahahaha. Oh, Steve, high school can be brutal. You poor thing!

      Thank you! And thanks for the tip. Now that it’s over, I’m excited to see the edited version. Six months feels like FOREVER to wait.

  5. I’ve had that dry mouth experience before when I had to give a presentation in front of a lot of people, but I always had water at hand. But giving a prepared talk is quite different from an interview.

    I had my first podcast interview about one of my books last week. Although it was audio only, I was very nervous. The interviewer was great, but the questions didn’t exactly go the way I had hoped they would, and I felt like I was bumbling my way through the answers.

    When we finished recording, I asked the interviewer if she thought it went all right, and she was very positive. I just hope she has good editing skills.

    The good news is the first interview is behind me. I have another one coming up next month, and I’ll be better prepared. Isn’t there a proverb that says something like “a wise person may fall seven times, but gets up again.” Six more to go.

    • I’m sure you did great, Kay. We writers are notoriously brutal on ourselves. I got wicked nervous when I did my first podcast, too. So, I started my own podcast with a friend. My cohost and I had a blast, too. No matter how much we stumble, we need to keep moving forward. Perseverance and experience really do calm shaky waters. It also helps to have a good sense of humor when we stumble. 🙂

  6. Sue, this made my morning! Both the humor, but also the fact that you have done a television appearance, surmounting the anxiety and the mishap. That’s very cool. I love the GIFs, too. They definitely add to the humor.

    I used to struggle mightily with public speaking, before teaching classes at the library and introducing program events, as well as giving what I used to call “nickel tours” of the library to groups.

    However, way back before then, in the early 1980s, I was a youthful science fiction fan who helped with several phone pledge drives for Oregon Public Broadcasting here in Portland as part of the local sci-fi club, to help keep Doctor Who reruns on the air, as well as PBS in general.

    One of those times I was chosen to be interviewed. I was also included in the brainstorming session for the segment, which was hosted by a telegenic local actor. I remember trying to point out that “crystalize” wasn’t a good euphemism for “teleportation” and being ignored.

    During the interview segment I was asked what my favorite companion of the Doctor was, and I managed to stammer out Leela and mumble a few other lines. We had set up the VCR to record the segment, and later, I didn’t seem quite as bad as I felt I’d done–not great, but intelligible, if obviously a bit anxious. Lesson–it isn’t always as bad as it seems at the time 🙂

    Thanks for a very fun post to liven this Monday morning!

    • My pleasure, Dale! And thank you for sharing your experience! The producer said the same thing. Once the show airs, the audience won’t be able to tell I was in turmoil. Thank God for editors. 🙂

      When Pretty Evil New England released, I was supposed to give a live talk in an auditorium–on the same stage where Aerosmith played! The pandemic saved me…for now.

  7. That stinks. After situations like that, you either laugh or crawl in a hole to die. Glad you chose to laugh. I have allergies, and I’m always pumped full of medication which keeps me dry mouthed. Add to that a recent problem that makes me lose the voice and cough, and long conversations require pauses involving me slogging lots of water. Courtesy of COVID and retirement, most of those conversations are with family and close friends so they’ve become used to it.

    A good tip for those here new at this gig. A friend who did lots of science fiction conventions over the years as a writer joined the Toastmasters to give him experience and confidence as a speaker.

    • Sorry to hear about your health issues, Marilynn. {{{hugs}}}

      I’ve heard of Toastmasters, but never knew what it was. Sounds like a great site. I’m sure the editor will do his/her magic so the audience never knows about my nerves. Gotta laugh, right? My husband videoed me when we got home, a keepsake to show the grandkids later, and I look like I’d just given birth, a huge smile plastered on my face. LOL Nerves are exhausting!

  8. Oh gawd, I can relate. A couple years back, I had to give a solo workshop presentation (big crowd of writers) and got a really bad cotton mouth attack. Someone brought me up a water bottle. And I proceeded to make a really dumb crack about Marco Rubio. (Remember when he had to give the state of the union response for the GOP one year? He kept gulping down water…it became a mean meme.)

    Lesson: Politics and public speaking don’t mix. Poor Rubio…I can relate, dude.

  9. Hey – I watched you the other night reading on Noir At The Bar (… public speaking) and it was flawless. You came across supremely confident and only took a couple dry-relief sips. One tip, though – you gotta stop doing that thing with your nose.

    Embarrassing moment for me? Picture this – Crowded Supreme Court room for a murder trial. I was a young cop back then and I juniored with an old cop, Sergeant Schoonmaker (who we called Weird Harold, but that’s for another story.) We’d got a confession from the accused in a good cop – bad cop interrogation, and now the question before the court was whether his confession was admissible in evidence. So the bad guy takes the stand and testifies that he was coerced into confessing and was told the court would go easier on him if he cooperated.

    His lawyer says to him, “Now who told you the court would go easier on you? Sergeant Schoomaker or Detective Rodgers?”

    The guy answers, “Well, I don’t remember what their names were, but it was the younger guy with the bad breath.”

    The crowded Supreme Court room breaks into laughter with me sitting right there red-faced among them.

    • Hahahahahaha! Okay, you win this round. 🙂

      Nice try with the nose comment. You had me going there for a second. LOL I’m fine on Zoom these days. It’s the whole camera crew thing that threw me.

  10. I feel for you. The first time I was interviewed on TV for a Spring Fling we were having at our senior center where I worked (now I’m old enough to go) I was fine until we walked on camera and up until that point, I didn’t know your tongue could literally stick to the roof of your mouth. Friends taped it for me, and yes it was as bad as I feared. I looked like I was about to cry. I think at the end I finally managed a smile.

  11. Gallons of water, eh? So, ahh, how many times did you have to stop on the way home?

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  13. So sorry to hear about your experience. I’m a poet and have read my work many times at poetry gigs. The best piece of advice I received was to have apple juice before getting on stage. Apparently, it has a similar consistency to saliva. Maybe it can help in interview situations also.

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