Show Emotion Without Becoming Emotional

One of the greatest challenges to a speaker is to speak about a topic that is very personal and troubling without becoming too emotional to give justice to the content. Recently, I heard a speaker do a marvelous job of impacting her audience with feeling without breaking down or having such a hard time she could not be understood.

The topic was her eight-year-old daughter who was born with a rare genetic condition involving unusual chromosome development. The chromosome (that should be stick-like) curves and attaches its ends, forming a ring.  A child who is born with this condition has “Ring 14 Syndrome.”  Many do not live through their first year of life. Marie is eight and has only recently learned to walk. She still needs continual care and has frequent seizures which erase her learning progress. Her mother, Yssa, talked about how her own life had changed since Marie was born. Her speech was part of a fund-raising event for research.  I was amazed at how poised and in control the mother was as she told the story.

Here are my observations as to why she was able to accomplish this with such poise. She had obviously practiced aloud the material enough that she was very comfortable with her notes and used them only to trigger the next thought. I have found in coaching executives that if the speaker practices saying the words several times, it will be easier to speak emotional words and/or to pronounce difficult words easily. Don’t let the actual presentation be in essence a practice session. Go over several times words or sentences that may be difficult for you.

She used several pieces of data to illustrate her points. Statistics and percentages rarely have emotions attached to them. Using them sparingly and at just the right time makes it easier for the speaker to remain in command on an emotional subject. She did well to summarize in lay terms research she has studied on Ring 14 Syndrome.

In spite of the painful and bleak future until a cure is found, Yssa used words that spelled hope and encouragement. For example, she stressed that in spite of the challenges, her life was blessed because Marie was a part of it. She told how empathic she has become toward people with special health issues. She stressed how close her family members were because of caring for Marie. She believes that more money for research can eventually produce medications that can help these children.

There is nothing wrong with a speaker’s becoming emotional when delivering a eulogy or sad information. However, from a practical standpoint, you want to communicate your message clearly and persuasively. Yssa demonstrated how this could be done in spite of obvious deep emotional feeling for her child.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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