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Once More with Feeling: Making an Emotional Connection with Your Audience

The ability to display emotion when speaking is, hands down, the most important skill a speaker must have. Putting feeling into what you’re saying by using nonverbal communication as a conduit for your emotions, is key to connecting with your audience. Of course, many people are reluctant to show their feelings. Emotional displays are often considered to be unprofessional. I’m not talking here about bursting into tears or behaving in any other way that may be considered to be extreme. However, to be successful, speakers must be willing to take some risks.

We’ve all seen speakers who, reluctant to show how they feel, deliver in a monotone voice with stiff physical presence (if there’s any presence at all). These speakers often have good information; the material is well-researched and it is much needed by their audiences. But these speakers are afraid to become intimate with their listeners. And, in many cases, they subsequently fail to communicate their messages resulting in a waste of time for all concerned. Some of these fears are the result of early training. Their parents may have told them that public displays of emotion were unseemly or poor manners. Others fear coming off as too slick. Many a client of mine has expressed concerns about coming off as too “salesy” or theatrical. One client, a large, prestigious private bank, was planning to take some wealthy clients on a retreat to a luxury resort where clients would attend workshops on financial planning and investing led by these bankers. The bankers were very worried that they might be seen as “selling” too much. My response was that the wealthy people who had accepted the bank’s invitation were busy people who did not need a free vacation. The reason they were there was to hear about the services and products it had to offer. They wanted to be sold! Once my clients realized this, they felt much freer to be passionate about their business and the retreat was a big success.

There are three questions you should ask yourself when trying to inject some emotional content into what you are saying:

  1. Do you believe what you are speaking about?
  2. Would you take your own advice?
  3. Are you willing to get out of your comfort zone?

If you believe what you are speaking about, it shouldn’t be too difficult to inject some feeling into the vocal and physical display. If you don’t believe what you are speaking about, don’t worry, it’s quite common. In such a situation, you have a choice: you can find another topic (or another job) or make a commitment to try to find things about your pitch that you do believe in and focus on them. The second question asks you to put yourself in your listener’s shoes. This is something all speakers must do all the time and it is an incredibly difficult task. It’s tough to be objective. But, if you are the type of person who practices what they preach, you should be able to do an honest assessment. The third question may be the most important. This is where the risk is involved and audience disapproval is the scariest one. No one likes to be disapproved of, but my experience is that if you take the risk of showing your feelings to your audience, they will eat it up.

Now, what are some of the things you can do to begin putting more feeling into what you’re saying? Voice is a huge component. There are so many things we can do with our voices; we can raise or lower the volume, use a wide range of pitch and expression, speed up or slow down our rate of speech. We can pause – silence for a couple of beats to let something sink in is an extraordinarily successful and underused technique. Next, your body language must support what you are saying. Be sure your posture reflects confidence and poise. Hands should move naturally and expressively. They should be in almost constant motion. A neglected area for displaying emotion is the face. Many people move well, but have a fixed expression. There are so many muscles in the face that can move. Smile, frown, look surprised, concerned; the face can say it all. Of course the eyes are deeply reflective of what you are feeling. Last but not least, remain aware of what you’re thinking. It is difficult to mask true thoughts. Think about what you’re saying, and how you feel about it. Then let the feeling flow through you to the audience.

Allowing your feelings to show won’t make you seem “salesy” or theatrical, but real. That authenticity will allow you to connect with your listeners in a big way and keep them coming back to you for more.

(c) 2001 Ruth Sherman

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