Today, I'd like to discuss the power of emotions in public speaking. The examples I'll use—from an introductory video, a media interview, and a eulogy—are from the worlds of medicine, sports, and law enforcement.
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Find the Emotional Heart of Your Topic
In the first example—the introductory video—the speaker achieves considerable credibility but misses the essential humanity of her subject. This is a video clip on the web site of an NGO (a nongovernmental organization) that advocates for and provides medical services to treat a widespread disease in third-world countries.
The narrator is a surgeon. As she speaks, we see patients, doctors, medical facilities, and surgeries taking place. It’s a natural setting for a video that should have packed an emotional wallop.
Yet focused entirely on the science involved, this doctor loses sight of the human beings discussed. Since we can assume this organization’s web site exists for the benefit of funders and other interested parties, this is a fatal flaw.
The deficit lies in the realms of both content and voice. We don’t hear the devastating nature of this disease—and the joy of treating it—in the words and sounds reaching our ears from the heart of the speaker. Yes, we are given vital information, but it exists on an intellectual plane that never moves us. To use your own voice effectively to connect with listeners, learn the 5 key tools of vocal dynamics.
Discover what Moves Your Audience
The second example, from the world of sports, is far more successful. This one is from one of my clients—a sports network for which I coach on-air talent. The particular client is a sideline reporter for one of the marquee teams in this sport.
The interview is taking place prior to a game on the field (and of course, was broadcast during the game itself). The player—the captain of his team—is a tough-as-nails professional who in the interview is explaining some of the technical aspects of the upcoming game.
And then something extraordinary happens. The sideline reporter asks about the player’s son. He’d recently had surgery, and the reporter was smart enough to do her homework and find out about it. Best of all—the surgery was performed in the city of my client’s team, the other team to the opposing captain.
Suddenly, the player’s eyes light up. He smiles. He tells the interviewer his son is doing well,and that he’s thankful for the wonderful people in the reporter’s city who cared for the boy.
The reporter did a very wise thing: she zeroed in on what moved her interviewee, not herself. And in turn, that allowed the millions of us watching on television to share in the genuinely moving moment. And it didn’t even stop there. After expressing his gratitude, the captain said: “Of course, I still hope we beat your guys tonight.” And winked!
(Discover here how to perform an audience analysis to get on your own audience’s wavelength.)
Speak Simply, and If Possible, Without Emotion
The third example, by contrast, is tragic, sad, and tremendously moving. It's the eulogy delivered by Pei Xia Chen, the wife of Wenjian Liu, one of the two New York City police officers slain in the line of duty in Brooklyn last month.
The newlywed widow chokes up more than once in what the New York Post called a “gut-wrenching eulogy.” The simple and unadorned language Pei Xia Chen uses is striking. On occasions like this that plumb the depth of tragedy, we might think that soaring rhetoric is called for. Yet like Lincoln, Churchill, King, and others, Pei Xia Chen understands that the profoundest emotions will only suffer from attempts to buttress them further. It’s what the expression “gilding the lily” means.
“The goodness of his soul.” “The wonderful man that many of you know as Joe.” “My best friend.” “Wenjian was a very hard-working cop.” No professional speechwriters in evidence here; and truly, this heartfelt speech would be the worst because of them. Most moving of all, perhaps, this police officer’s widow at times speaks of her husband in the present tense.
This is what a speech that uses emotions powerfully feels like. You can use such a direct approach for your own speeches for leadership, influence, and in your own storytelling. If you do what I advocate above—find the emotional heart of your topic and discover what moves your audience—you will not have to do anything to give the emotions their due.
Small words fully felt can have great impact. Our lives are almost never easy, but their truest moments are best grasped when we speak simply from the heart.
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