Emotion in public speaking is like the key in a front door – it opens up the whole house. If you can convince an audience to feel the way you do about your topic, then you can – and will – be a huge success.
An audience that feels the emotional effects of your words will remember your message better; they will more readily change their minds; and they will be far more likely to listen from the beginning to the end of your presentation without becoming distracted.
So emotion in public speaking is very powerful however, an audience will only experience it if you give it to them. Unless you speak with feeling yourself, your audience will feel nothing – and your speech will have significantly less impact than it might otherwise have done.
To speak with feeling is to experience your speech as if you are giving it for the first time. The important words here are “as if”. Practice makes perfect in public speaking as in everything else, so I’m in no way suggesting you look at your presentation for the first time on stage.
The secret is to engage with your speech each time you give it, don’t memorise it and recite it by rote; understand it, get to know it as you might a map, and allow yourself time, as you speak, to think about what you’re saying each time you say it.
If you are telling a story, be excited about it so that your audience will be, too. If you’re telling a joke, smile. If you’re making a serious point, be sober. This may all sound like common sense, but it’s remarkable how many speakers don’t follow this simple advice.
Speakers often “play it safe” because of the anxiety many feel about standing on a stage in front of other people. There’s also a stubborn assumption in the professional world that all emotion is inappropriate at all times. This results too often in speakers adopting a bland, almost monotone approach to speaking that doesn’t engage the audience.
Think about how we speak in ordinary conversation: our voices rise and fall, we speak faster and slower, and we smile and frown. If you also speak on stage in the same way, audiences will experience this as genuine and authentic – and they will respond to that.
So speaking with feeling is about allowing yourself to speak naturally. Partly, this is about losing any lingering anxiety about speaking in public, but I think it’s also about understanding that your words aren’t just what you say – they’re how you say it, too.
The words “I’m happy” are only given their full meaning if you say them brightly. If you do, your audience will be happy, too.