Speaking Through Emotion

November 22, 2023

A few years ago, I was giving the toast at my oldest daughter’s wedding reception. It was going quite well! I had thanked everyone for coming, and I’d gotten a few laughs. Then I decided to give the bride and groom some fatherly advice. About three seconds later, my eyes filled with tears, and it felt like someone had grabbed me by the vocal chords! Know the feeling?

Fortunately, I was able to pull it together, and the young couple was honored. But ever since then, I’ve noticed more and more people being affected by emotion during interviews and public speaking opportunities. And it’s not just fathers of the bride. A family member delivering a eulogy. Company leaders who care deeply about their employees. Even rugged football coaches are getting choked up after big wins.

As it turns out, there’s some science involved.

“One way the nervous system responds to getting emotional is by opening the muscle at the back of the throat,” said Casey Smith, a Speech Pathologist with Axis Therapy Centers. “And this is the sensation people describe as having a lump in their throat.”

So what can you do to prevent emotion from derailing your next media interview or presentation? Quite a bit, actually.

“When any kind of emotion starts to take over during public speaking, pause and take a deep breath from your belly to reset,” said Lauri Freking, Senior Communication Trainer at Wixted & Company. “And a quick drink of water is the best way I know to knock down that lump in your throat.”

More great advice comes from someone else who knows a thing or two about public speaking and emotion. Mike Housholder is the Senior Pastor at Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines, Iowa.

“When you feel emotion welling up, and it’s getting in the way of communicating your message, do your best to shift the focus from what you are feeling to what you want your audience to hear in that moment,” said Housholder. “In other words, point over passion, at least until the storm of emotion you feel begins to calm.”

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with showing some emotion when it comes to talking about what’s important to us. It’s a non-verbal cue to your audience that says, “I care about this,” so give yourself a break if you find the need to pause and collect yourself. And avoid making a big deal about it. Audiences today are pretty forgiving. Typically, they’re pulling for you to succeed.

And for you soon-to-be, fathers of the bride who are reading this, here’s one more suggestion. Save the heartfelt stuff until the very end. Trust me… it gets really hard to talk after that.

Blog by Jeff Johnson