IF YOU WANT TO STAND OUT as a speaker, let the audience catch you in the act of revealing deep feelings in public – feelings so strong and acute you can’t help letting them out. Instinctively, the crowd will move to your side.
As I write in my book, "How to Become a Super Speaker: The 7 Principles for Speaking with Confidence and Connecting with Audiences," I learned first-hand the importance of emotion. I was in a regional speaking contest, talking about my experience singing to my ailing mother in the last days of her life while she lay in a morphine-induced coma.
I had chosen to serenade Mom in her private room at the facility where she was living, because in the years prior to her debilitating stroke, she had enjoyed singing. Possessed of an uncanny ear for singing harmony, she had been in an amateur choir, and sometimes when we watched TV as a family, she would spontaneously join the movie or TV show actor singing, in perfect harmony.
ALLOW THE AUDIENCE TO FEEL YOUR EMOTIONS STIRRING
My fondest memory of her, I told my audience, was the time the two of us sang a duet, over the kitchen sink, as we did dishes together. Mom washed and sang the harmony while I dried and sang the melody.
“Not only did our dishes sparkle,” I told my contest audience, “but so did the harmonies we created as a mother-and-son vocal duo.”
Now, at Mom’s bedside, I told the crowd, I decided to sing love ballads from the 1930s and ’40s, not only because they were in vogue when Mom was growing up, but also because they were the soundtrack of my parents’ courting days. Dad had died the year before, and Mom had lamented on previous visits how much she missed him. I thought hearing these songs might bring Mom back momentarily.
From here, the story gets a bit surreal. My mother lay motionless in bed with her eyes closed as I sang Cole Porter’s epic love song “Night and Day.” (That's Cole Porter in the 1930s portrait photo.)
As I finished singing the first verse and was about to start the next line, which begins with the words “night and day,” something extraordinary happened. Mom opened her mouth and started trying to sing along with me. The caregiver and I looked at each other across the room; we could not believe what we were seeing.
I felt my audience grow still as I recounted pulling my chair closer to my mother, my feelings beginning to roil. Speaking directly to the figure in bed, I said: “Mom, you love these old songs, don’t you?” And Mom, still lying motionless with her eyes closed, opened her mouth and said one word: “Yes.”
REVEALING FEELINGS IS PART OF THE SHOW
And those were the last words I ever had with her. Reliving my mother’s demise and re-experiencing that one final incredible moment of bonding with her brought me to tears. It took me a moment to regain control of myself before I could carry on, but I did.
Needless to say, the speech had tremendous impact and I won the contest.
Here's my point:
- If publicly reliving pain — or joy —unnerves you, remember this: exposing your despair or delight to an audience is part of being that “show person” you must become to give your words impact.
- If you want to make a big impression on the crowd, pick a topic that resonates deeply with you. You don’t have to have a tearful outburst, if it’s not in you; you just have to be authentic.
- No matter what you feel, expressing genuine emotions will give your speech undeniable power; and it will be remembered long after you conclude it.
Copyright 2020 by Michael Barris