Lose your cool and win your audience

A speaker whom I was coaching gave a preview of her speech in front of some of the organizers of our event. Her speech consisted of some very personal and heart-wrenching stories, and in the telling she momentarily lost control of her emotions and had to stop to collect herself. The small audience was riveted by her passion and her stories. When the day of her presentation arrived, to my surprise my client took the stage with a full sheaf of notes and proceeded to read her speech, speaking much more dryly and displaying very limited emotion. Although interested in her topic, the audience was considerably less moved than had been those at her run-through.

When I asked the speaker afterward why she had abandoned the limited notes that she had crafted and gone back to her written speech, she responded, “I was afraid that I might cry.” Yes, she might well have, but by denying herself a display of vulnerability she had greatly diminished the power of her presentation.

We all tend to respond in a visceral way to a show of emotion. Even a pedestrian subject gains emotional heft when the speaker lets his/her guard down. For example, watch Tom Brady, quarterback of the New England Patriots, talk about his distress on draft day as he waited longer than he expected to be drafted by an NFL team (begin watching around the 1:10 mark):


Many of us, men particularly, are trained and encouraged to keep a lid on their emotions – control is the name of the game. But as we watch Tom Brady struggle with his emotions, he becomes more human in our eyes and we connect with him on a different level. The same will be true for you when you access the passion at the heart of your presentation, and permit yourself to let the audience hear and experience it.

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