Besides breath, emotion is one of the most underrated attributes of our oratorical treasure chests. Dig deep and you will find it can unlock the most unengaged of audiences. But what happens when you get really emotional while telling a personal story?
Let me preface this by saying emotion is anything that makes you feel anything. Curious, happy, scared… or annoyed, inspired and eager. I’ve often had clients unclear how they can move from telling a story about data to getting an audience to feel something about the data. But that is what storytelling does. It bridges between what you want someone to know and feel, moving them from their neutral or opposite way they are feeling.
Go There, Don’t Stay There
As Maya Angelou said, people won’t remember what you told them, they will remember how you made them feel.
But what happens when YOU as a speaker feel a wash of emotion when telling a “crucible” story. One of your history that has helped to define who you are as a person or leader? Or something dramatic that’s happened to you where you were witness to someone else’s tragedy? What do you do with the tears, dry mouth, heavy breathing, sweaty palms and insatiable desire to run off the stage?
We call this the “go there but don’t stay there” strategy.
Audiences love to connect with speakers. It is what makes a talk or speech engaging and memorable. If you are courageous enough to tell such an emotionally moving story, then do so. And let the feelings flow. Show the audience how hard it is to tell it, because it is hard. Being authentic and not guarded is what they want. And quite frankly, it’s what you want, too.
But staying in the emotion is not what either of you want. The trick is to know what to say next, right after the delicate story. Find a key phrase that allows you to come back to present – to that audience in front of you. They want you to share what you’ve learned, a reflection or insight as a result of that loss, tragedy or trauma. They don’t want you to stay inside it because they don’t know what to do to help the anguish.
So let yourself go deep, sharing as much as you are comfortable. But know you need a little ladder to climb out to connect back with your audience.
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Ruth Milligan is the Founder, Managing Director and an Executive Coach and Trainer with Articulation. She is perhaps best known as one of the original curators for any TEDx event (the license program for TED). Since 2009, Ruth has selected and coached over 200 speakers who have taken the TEDxColumbus stage. She is often tapped as an expert in the TED-style of speaking and has authored a class on how to be a TEDx speaker coach. Connect with Ruth.