When Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida offered the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address, his delivery was hampered by one of the worst cases of dry mouth ever televised.
The senator’s entire performance was a bit of a mess. He dabbed sweat from his forehead numerous times, repeatedly licked and wiped his dehydrated lips, and even muffled a few words because his tongue was stuck in place.
But it was his awkward lunge for a small bottle of water that turned his performance into fodder for late-night comedy.
That Sen. Rubio received so much mockery for needing a drink of water is, well, unfair. But the media’s commentary about the “sip slip” was also predictable. When Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal—like Rubio, also a potential 2016 presidential contender—gave the rebuttal to the State of the Union in 2009, he was compared unfavorably to “Kenneth the Page” from NBC sitcom “30 Rock” because of the odd optics that diminished his appearance.
The big problem is that those moments distracted from the messages that both politicians were hoping to convey.
I’m not interested in piling on Rubio, but I am interested in offering a couple of tips to prevent a “dry mouth moment,” should you ever find yourself in a similar situation.
First, and most obviously, keep a bottle of water within easy reach. Hydrate yourself before your presentation, and avoid salty or hot foods that could leave you parched before you speak.
But it’s this second point that’s the key: When something goes wrong during a presentation—and inevitably it will—it’s crucial that you avoid having a look of panic.
Version No. 1: How Rubio handled it:
He waited until he was desperate for a drink of water, awkwardly lunged to the side, and took a sip of water with the panicked expression of a man who had been caught doing something wrong.
Version No. 2: How Rubio should have handled it:
When Rubio realized he was getting parched earlier in his speech, he should have waited until a natural pause, calmly and deliberately reached for his water, taken a few sips, smoothly put it back, turned back to the camera, and resumed. It’s true that some commentators may have still remarked on the awkwardness of the moment—but the coverage wouldn’t have been as pervasive because the visual wouldn’t have been as bad.
Taking the latter approach might have prevented late-night shows from lampooning the GOP up-and-comer:
RELATED: The worst media disaster in January Brad Phillips is author of the new book The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview. He blogs at Mr. Media Training, where this story first appeared.