One of my clients was preparing the opening remarks for a fundraising event. The goal of the event was to raise money to cure a disease that her father had suffered from. She was concerned that she would break down in tears during the speech, so she asked me, “How do I manage my emotions in a speech?”
When you have a personal connection to your subject, showing emotion is a powerful way to connect with your audience as an authentic, genuine person. We connect with people through shared feelings and emotions, whether we are in a corporate boardroom or a nonprofit fundraiser.
However, there’s a difference between showing emotion and being overwhelmed by emotion.
Showing emotion can include:
- Smiling as you talk about an accomplishment you are proud of
- Softening your voice as you reflect on a personal loss
- Speaking with passion about an issue you care about
Being overwhelmed by emotion is when you get flustered to the point where you lose the main message of your speech.
So how you do you show emotion without being overwhelmed by it?
In advance of your speech, ask the 3 questions: Who is your audience, What is your goal, and Why you (why do you care about your subject)? The third question, Why you? helps you connect with an authentic emotion around your subject.
In addition, ask a few other questions, such as, What level of emotion is appropriate for this audience? Where can you push the boundaries without pushing them too far? Let the answers to those questions guide your choice of stories or anecdotes.
If you are concerned about being overwhelmed by emotion in your speech, practice it with someone else in advance. Do you consistently break down at a certain story? If so, you may not be ready to share that particular story. Find a different anecdote that makes the same point but draws less emotion.
Despite our best efforts, there will still be times when we are overcome with emotion in a speech. In those cases, here are some ways to get back on track:
- Pause and breathe
- Have water with you and take a sip when you need a moment to collect your thoughts
- Have notes ready so you can find your place
- Take another deep breath and keep going
- Consider adding the emotional story to the end of your speech, so that you end with meaning and can leave the stage without feeling like you cut the speech short
Tapping into emotion is a powerful and authentic way to connect with your audience. You can feel comfortable showing emotion in your speech and you now have some tips to keep your cool when you are overwhelmed by emotion.