It's a lecture that packs an emotional wallop. The talk ties the tragedy to an opportunity to see one of its victims dancing again for the first time on the TED stage:
Great speaking depends as much on your performance as your material! Find out why in my free Insights article, "Great Speaking? It's About Performance Over Content!"
How to Make Your Speeches Emotionally Powerful
Through performances like Hugh Herr's TED talk, we see how emotion can transcend content and even an unemotional speaker. That's key to great keynote speaking or other events where you're looking for a maximum payoff in terms of how to engage an audience.
In terms of your own speeches and presentations, you can and should develop your message in ways that tap into emotional reservoirs. So often it's really about your audience's emotional experience—and know that that response can occur in spite of analytical, financial, or technical content. In fact, if you frequently discuss topics in these areas, it's critically important that you understand how emotions work on audiences.
Here are five ways you can consciously create an "emotional encounter" between you and listeners. Do that, and your influence will soar. Most speakers just deliver content, which almost never reaches an emotional plane. Instead, here are my five rules for achieving emotional power in your speeches and presentations.
1. Develop an Emotional Message.
At The Genard Method of performance-based public speaking training in Boston, we teach clients that concept first, last, and everywhere in between. It's your audience that matters when you speak, not your focus on content. The "content bandwagon" is always bright and shiny and fun to hop on. But influence is the be-all and end-all in public speaking situations.
You should therefore ask yourself at every stage of preparation if what you're putting together will serve your purpose. One great way to do so is to learn how to perform an audience analysis. Since to influence means to change thoughts, feelings, or actions—all emotional experiences—you must find the emotional wavelength. What will reach these listeners where they live, and so change their lives for the better? This is so far above the bare delivery of content that it shouldn't even need stating, but it does.
2. Show Your Engagement.
Content can never live on its own. It's your place to make it come to life, sparking electricity between you and the audience. The good news is that you can just be you to make that happen. In fact, the connection won't occur otherwise. All your audience ever wants is you, speaking honestly about something you believe in.
So here's a simple formula to live by: Zero in on your relationship with your audience and forget about how you're doing. Worrying about your performance will push you toward artificially creating an "excellent" end result. Instead, just engage listeners. They'll respond!
3. Use emotional language.
Making emotional connections with other human beings isn't difficult if you share an interest in the same topic. But to do so, you need to use the language of emotion.
How could you succeed without doing that if you're trying to move listeners? Emotional words and connotations create a heartfelt response in people. "Love" beats "like." "Should" pales next to "must." Listen to the difference between: "I like this development" and "I love this solution!"
Look for words that sing rather than mumble; run headlong instead of stroll. As Mark Twain said, "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug." (Here are Mark Twain's best quotes and how to use them in public speaking.)
4. Create an emotional experience.
It's all part of creating an emotional experience for your audience. Never be satisfied with just conveying information, as nothing is more boring for listeners. Why educate when you can inspire? Why motivate when you can fire up? Why influence when you can change lives?
One key to creating an emotional experience is simply wanting to do so. If you're shy about transforming the lives of the people in the room, don't speak in public. If you think that you can't reach audiences on an emotional level, maybe public speaking isn't for you. Memos, PowerPoint decks, and meeting minutes don't need you to explain much. They deliver their information efficiently. You're the human being who needs to be on hand to tell us what it all means.
5. Open the emotional gate.
Here's the last of my 5 ways to achieve emotional power in your talks. To be open to your exciting (and emotionally engaging) ideas, audiences need you to show the way. If you're not exhibiting an emotional response yourself, why should they? If you're only conveying information without much humanity, they may give up on you.
Sure, you're not perfect and never will be. You'll also never deliver a perfect presentation. But every time you present, you give audiences a unique gift: a person speaking in real time, in a hire-wire act where much is on the line. Your willingness to do is a powerful way to get people to listen to and like you. It will help create both leadership and charisma. It will open you to them, and them to you. After all, the emotional gate swings both ways.
This blog was originally published in 2014. It is updated here.
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Ready to speak with the power that impacts and influences stakeholders? The Genard Method trains leaders, spokespersons, government representatives, and business professionals worldwide in speaking for leadership.