Public Speaking in Emotional Contexts

This Saturday, I’m speaking on perhaps the most nerve-racking stage I’ve ever stepped onto… 

Am I giving a TEDTalk? No. 

Am I finally officially announcing my candidacy for elected office?! Not yet. 

I’m doing something even scarier…

I’m officiating my brother’s wedding. 

Now on a certain level, this kind of speaking engagement is as easy as they come. 

After all, you’re never going to find yourself in front of an audience that is more primed to root for your success! 

So, why do these sorts of events make people so nervous? 

The answer’s pretty simple: 

These speaking events require us to risk getting emotional in front of a crowd. 

For most of us, that is a pretty terrifying prospect.

Which is why I want to devote this month’s blog post to the subject of speaking in emotional contexts

If you’ve ever delivered a eulogy, given a toast at a wedding, or shared a vulnerable story, you know that no boardroom PowerPoint can prepare you for that experience. 

Here are a couple strategies for how best to navigate these emotional waters. 

Have Notes Handy

Even if you NEVER look at them, I think it’s always a good move to keep notes on hand if you know you’re delving into emotional territories. No matter how much you practice, there is always the chance your brain is going to blank once those big feelings hit. 

Pictured below: Me holding my wedding vows at my own wedding. 

Y’all. I’m a public speaking coach for a living and even I didn’t attempt to memorize that thing. 

It is 100% okay to carry notes when speaking at an emotional event.

Because no one should be concentrating on memorization when they’re reciting their wedding vows. 

I’ll take unmemorized and emotionally available over memorized and robotic, every day of the week. 

Which brings me to the next piece of advice…

Don’t Fight The Emotions

I’ve seen it happen. A person is delivering a speech beautifully, they start to feel a little choked up, and then they shut it down. 

The shoulders go up. The arms cross. The eyes go down. The breath gets shallower and the person’s voice flattens.

They may succeed in preventing a tear from falling, but they’ve also shut down any connection they had built with the audience.

Weddings are not the place for stoicism. If you’re feeling a big feeling, just breathe, feel the feeling, and continue your speech. 

And guess what? If you get a bit misty, the audience might as well. 

That’s not a bad thing. 

If you want your audience to go on an emotional journey when you speak, you shouldn’t be afraid to join them for a bit of the ride. 

Will it feel vulnerable? Absolutely. 

But vulnerability is an essential part of human connection. 

And isn’t connection something we could all use a bit more of in 2022?

That’s the thought I’ll leave you with in this final blog post of the year. 

Till next time, wishing you plenty of connection, love, and laughter this holiday season! Look forward to reconnecting in 2022!

Photograph of Sara Glancy on stairs
Headshot by Jessica Osber.

Sara Glancy is an NYC-based actor and public speaking coach and the founder of Speak Masterfully, a service that helps professionals take the stage with less fear and more fun! 

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