By Jevon Wooden
The paradigm of professional speaking has long been shrouded in the myth of stoicism: the belief that to maintain credibility and composure, a speaker must divorce themselves from the emotional weight of their narratives. This perspective, though prevalent, misses the heart of what makes storytelling a transformative experience for both the speaker and the audience.
Imagine a world where leaders, educators, and influencers only shared stories from a safe distance—a world devoid of the heartbeat of shared experiences. It’s a world far less colorful and far less connected. But as we delve into the human experience through speaking, we uncover an irrefutable truth: emotion is the bridge that connects us all.
In this article, I will cover why embracing emotion and authenticity as a leader is important and how to implement it in your presentations.
Let’s consider the profound impact of vulnerability and authenticity from the speaker’s platform, using lessons learned from life’s most challenging moments.
The Case for Emotional Storytelling
When I recount the rawest moments of my life—the dread of a potential seven-year incarceration at a tender age or the deafening blast that shook Bagram Airbase on a day etched by terror—I do so knowing that my emotions are not a weakness, but a testament to the shared trials we all face. My voice finds its greatest strength in this vulnerability, and my message resonates most deeply with those listening.
As a speaker, you might have been cautioned against this very approach. “Keep your composure,” they say. “Don’t let your emotions get the better of you.” Yet, what if I told you that this traditional advice is not just limiting, but counterintuitive to the very essence of effective communication?
Emotion as a Gateway to Connection
The resonance of a story lies not in the events themselves but in the emotional journey accompanying them. When a speaker is moved, the audience is moved. Emotion opens a gateway to empathy, allowing others to see their own reflections in your story. When wielded with intention and control, it is a powerful tool that can transform a room of passive listeners into a collective, empathetic consciousness.
Navigating Emotional Journeys
Here lies the crux of the matter: it’s not about avoiding emotion; it’s about navigating it with authenticity and purpose. It’s understanding that sometimes the weight of a memory will pull at your tear ducts, and other times, you’ll traverse through your tale with a steady voice and dry eyes.
Embracing your emotional truth doesn’t mean you forfeit composure. It’s about owning your emotional responses and, when necessary, gently asking the audience to bear with you for a moment as you gather yourself. This is not a moment of failure but a powerful punctuation in your delivery that can make your message all the more impactful.
Actionable Tips for Speakers Embracing Emotion
Know Your Emotional Tendencies: Before taking the stage, reflect on your stories and understand where the emotional peaks and valleys lie. This forethought will allow you to anticipate your reactions and navigate them gracefully.
Practice Mindful Storytelling: Rehearse your stories with the emotions they evoke. Allow yourself to experience these emotions in rehearsal to manage them effectively in your presentation.
Develop Pauses in Your Narrative: Design your speech with deliberate pauses following emotionally charged segments. These pauses serve as moments for both you and your audience to process and reflect.
Communicate with Your Audience: If emotion overwhelms you, expressing this to your audience is perfectly acceptable. A simple “Please bear with me; this part of my story is particularly close to my heart” can create a powerful connection.
Harness the Power of Silence: Sometimes, silence can be more eloquent than words. A silent moment when you are moved can be a profound experience for your listeners.
Use Your Experience to Empower: Frame your story as a journey of resilience and growth. This transforms your emotional moments from moments of vulnerability to beacons of strength.
Encourage Audience Reflection: Invite your listeners to connect your story with their own experiences. This not only deepens engagement but also fosters a community of shared understanding.
End with a Call to Action: Use the emotional momentum of your journey to inspire action. What do you want your audience to think, feel, or do after they leave? Guide them there.
The authenticity of your emotional expression is not a liability; it’s your most potent asset. As you stand before your audience, remember that the courage to share your journey, complete with its emotional depth, is what transforms a speech into a shared human experience. Dare to be unapologetically you; in that courage, you’ll discover an unrivaled power to touch hearts, change minds, and move people to action. Your stories, imbued with genuine emotion, are not just recollections of the past—they are the lighthouse guiding others through the stormy seas of human experience toward connection, understanding, and, ultimately, toward the realization that we are all navigating this journey together.