Many of our clients have to discuss difficult topics during their media interviews and speeches.
For example, I work with more than 100 burn survivors each year. They have a story to tell, but telling their stories about barely escaping a house fire or surviving brutal domestic abuse isn’t easy.
Another client, a zookeeper, could barely contain her grief when discussing the death of one of her beloved animals.
Another recent client chose virtual schooling for her children and got upset when asked whether her neighbors thought her decision was strange. It’s no wonder she got emotional—few things will make people more defensive than having their choices as parents questioned by outsiders.
So what should you do when you find yourself getting emotional during a speech or media interview? Here are three things to keep in mind:
1. Ask yourself whether it’s OK to be emotional. Most audiences understand why a burn survivor might get emotional when discussing his or her injury. Exhibiting emotion may feel uncomfortable, but in some cases, it may actually enhance your delivery. So don’t automatically try to squelch your emotion just because you’re embarrassed by it.
Context matters. When a loving mother, a caring zookeeper, or a disabled burn survivor cries when telling their story, the public tends to understand and empathize. When House Speaker John Boehner cries (as he does regularly), well, that’s a different story.
2. Take a moment. If you get choked up for a moment, stop talking for a few seconds instead of rushing through your remarks—just put your head down and pause for a few seconds, then look up and continue when you’re ready.
If you’re more than just momentarily choked up and fear you may not be able to continue at all, you may need to move on to the next option.
3. De-personalize and detach. When people get emotional during a talk, it’s usually because they’re too close to the material. By de-personalizing their stories, they’re often able to get through the material much more easily.
For example, the mother might have said:
“I know that some people think virtual home schooling is strange, but I love my kids [begins to choke up] and other people have no right to judge me [begins to tremble and sob]. You know [begins to de-personalize], it’s not just about me and my choice. Thousands of parents in our state have decided to pursue virtual schooling for their children, and there are several good reasons for that, such as….”
When emotional speakers make their content less concrete and more abstract, they can often proceed without emotion getting in their way. And once they’re on more solid ground, they can return to the more emotional parts of their story—if and when they’re ready.
Visit the Mr. Media Training Blog to see the 21 Most Essential Media Training Links. Brad Phillips is the author of the Mr. Media Training Blog and president of Phillips Media Relations, which specializes in media and presentation training.