We coach clients to use a variety of facial expressions during talks to convey meaning and persuade. (Sport a poker face and you force audiences to work harder to grasp your meaning.) Expressing appropriate emotion during presentations can help move a conversation forward. But what happens when your strong emotion during a presentation hinders message delivery and distracts the audience (it might be while delivering sad news or happy news, or experiencing frustration or anger)? How can you stay on message, convey the information you must, and stay composed? The following tips will help you be effective in this unique talk scenario.
Anticipate the Emotion
A client told us she becomes teary-eyed or filled with emotion when delivering sad news, or even good news. Depending on the content or message you must deliver, you may experience this from time to time. Before that presentation, assess your content and message. Consider the people to whom you must deliver it. Do you expect you’ll get emotional—whether tears, anger, sadness or something else? Diagnose what may arise during a sensitive or challenging talk. It’s the first step to managing how this shows up during the presentation itself.
Just the Facts
We can learn from experts in non-defensive communication. When delivering a tough or difficult-to-hear message, stay as utterly neutral as possible. Vacuum out of your language any bias, judging words, or overstated emotion. As you prepare your message, remove or minimize emotional language that goes beyond what best serves your message, your audience, and you. Allow your language to convey neutral observations to assure that you stay neutral and focused during your talk.
Practice, Practice, Practice
We can’t emphasize it enough: Rehearsing such talks out loud before the presentation date is critical. Strategic speakers do so, to assure their flow and to plan ahead for how to deal with any heightened emotion of their own. Doing rehearsals in a private space at work with trusted colleagues or in your own home with loved ones before the event may allow you to express and “let off” some of the sadness, anger, or whatever other emotion. Doing a run-through out loud further gives you the muscle memory experience therefore affording you greater equanimity and composure when doing the talk before your real audience.
Are You Breathing?
Imagine you are mid-presentation and sadness, anger, or another emotion rises to the surface. It threatens to take your focus and possibly distract the audience. Take a few moments to pause and breathe. It might be while you hit the “B” key to blank the screen, or pause to consult your notes. Focus on consistent, deep breaths that calm the central nervous system. Extending the exhale breath longer than the inhale breath will lower stress levels even further. It’s so simple yet we sometimes forget to do it. But breathing is a powerful strategy to stay grounded and focused as you move through the content.
De-Personalize...and Re-Direct Focus
If there’s “charge” on the message you must convey, keep focused on neutral elements in your content. Direct your focus to a technical aspect of presenting: How can you convey all you need to as clearly and articulately as possible, to make sure the listeners capture all they need to? Distract yourself with a focus on another aspect of style. For example, make sure that you build in 2-3 second pauses so that everyone is able to meaningfully digest the information. If you deliver the talk standing, plan to take some steps and move from one part of the ‘stage area’ to another, and plant yourself. The physical movement changes your perspective and helps you transition to a different frame of mind.
It’s not easy to deliver content where you anticipate your own emotional reaction. But these strategies will help you stay grounded during your presentation. Test them out and see how they help you keep your calm, focus, and cool.
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