From time to time you may choose to talk about personal and/or difficult topics. As a public speaking coach and instructor, I have seen a client’s emotions get the best of them. Here are 8 strategies on controlling your emotions in difficult presentation situations.
1. Bring tissues for yourself (and others)
When you are discussing emotionally-charged subjects you will want to have tissues on hand; not only for yourself, but for your audience. You may want to distribute them to your listeners, or simply have them on hand for any emotional reactions from the audience.
2. Have a bottle of water handy
Taking a drink of water has a calming effect and allows you to pause and gather your emotions. This works particularly well when your topic leads to tears.
TIP: I recommend a solid bottle, like a Sigg bottle, with a topper as opposed to a clear glass or bottle of water as they are less likely to spill or show any nervous shakes.
3. Stop and breathe deeply
Sometimes there is nothing better than taking a deep breath, or a few of them. Breathe deeply into the depths of your belly button or tailbone and on the exhale say quietly the number one in a long drawn out breath. Then repeat while you say the number two and then the number three. I find with this simple process that I relax quite quickly.
If you’re still not calm, then repeat 1-2-3 again. Alternatively, you can simply look down and quickly gather your thoughts and emotions.
4. Have a prop you can look at for a pause
Bring something that inspires you, or grounds you, in regards to your subject. It can also be something that reminds you to focus on the importance of your message to the audience and why the audience needs to hear what you have to say, from you, right now.
5. Think pleasant thoughts and feel your audience’s support
Know that they want to hear from you and also that they see you succeed. They want you to finish your presentation and to share your feelings and emotions with them. Nothing inspires a crowd more than when a speaker reveals a vulnerability.
6. Go to your next point and come back if you can
If there is a point in your presentation that causes you to react, then simply skip over it and come back to it if time allows. If you cannot handle that point at all, then consider alternative ways of sharing and/or communicating your message. Perhaps you can pre-record a video and post it after you present or have someone else share that part of the story on your behalf.
7. A light, witty remark can cut the tension
I have seen this done a dozen ways. Sometimes it’s initiated by the speaker, and sometimes by the audience as a way of cutting the high-level of tension created by strong emotions. It is always best to have something in your back pocket to share to relieve the stress of an emotionally-charged story.
Think about how you could lighten the mood prior to presenting and/or plant someone in the audience with a question or comment that will ease the pressure building in your personal story. Conversing with your listeners is a sure way to cut the tension and to get someone else talking and sharing while you gather yourself together.
8. Fight the urge to stop or give up
Your audience really wants to see you succeed. Know that and believe it to your core, especially if you are more than halfway through your presentation. The audience will definitely want to hear how your story concludes.
I encourage you to persevere and to complete what you started. You never know where that breakthrough will take you next in your life and who’s burden you may be able to ease by sharing your story.
As an audience member, you can help a speaker in many ways by showing your support, sensitivity and empathy in these ways…
- Relate to the speaker and nod – give positive non-verbal feedback to them.
- Leave the room unobtrusively, turn away or look down if you are highly emotional.
- Give reassurances through your body language by leaning in and/or smiling.
- Avoid laughing inappropriately when you feel the tension building.
- Generate a topic for audience discussion to allow the speaker time to compose themselves by either asking a question or sharing a story of your own, if they speaker will allow it.
- Don’t whisper to your neighbour to cover your discomfort as that can be distracting to an emotionally-charged speaker.
Remember, you are not a robot, and no audience wants to watch an unemotional robot give a motivational speech. Right?
So, when emotions creep in, as they have a bad habit of doing, take a moment to let the emotion flow through you and your listeners. Then harness it as best you can and continue on. The worst thing that you can do is stop, give up and refuse to continue to present.
It’s like riding a bike or a horse…
you’ve got to get back up, dust yourself off, and try again.
You can do it!
These eight strategies will help you to share more of yourself with others by teaching you how to control your emotional reactions when public speaking. We’d love to hear about your successes, please feel free to share them with us on social media, and to share these strategies with others.