The Worst Video Media Disaster Of February 2013

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on February 28, 2013 – 1:00 pm

When Florida Senator Marco Rubio 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 removed 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 miniature-sized bottle of water that turned his performance into a late night joke.

The fact that Sen. Rubio received this much mocking press for needing a drink of water is, well, unfair. But the media’s commentary about the “sip slip” was also predictable. When Louisiana Governor 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 30 Rock’s “Kenneth the Page” character due to the odd optics that diminished his appearance.

The big problem is that those moments distracted from the messages both politicians were hoping to convey.

I’m not interested in piling on Sen. Rubio, but I am interested in offering a couple of tips to prevent a similar “dry mouth moment” if you ever find yourself in a similar situation.

Marco Rubio Water

First, and most obviously, keep a bottle of water within easy reach. Hydrate yourself before your presentation, and avoid salty or hot foods that 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 critical that you avoid getting a look of panic.

Version One: 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 Two: 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, calmly put it back, turned back to the camera, and calmly 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 all-pervasive because the video clip wouldn’t have been as bad.

If you have a few minutes, it’s worth watching how the comedians portrayed the moment.

From Saturday Night Live:

From The Colbert Report:

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

    Brad Phillips

    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

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    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

    Christina tweets at @PMRChristina.

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