Earlier this year, a client asked me how she could be sure she wouldn't cry when sharing a personal story that was deeply meaningful to her with an audience. Many leaders in social justice are motivated by strong emotions. That’s a good thing! But as a presenter you want to control those emotions, not have them control you.
I am one of those people who cries really easily. I recently had to eulogize my mother and I thought if ever there was a test to practice what I preach, here it was. Here’s how I made it through without letting tears force the audience to worry about me instead of listen to me.
- Be really clear about your goals and that you do not want to cry. Ambivalence will not help you. Tears do not help a performance.
- Rehearse what you're going to say until it loses some of its power. You need to know absolutely every place that may trigger you. As you rehearse, your trigger points are liable to shift. First, one line will set you off. Then as you practice, you’ll get that under control and some other line will trigger tears. You need to identify and exhaust all the possible places that will make you cry.
- Breathe breathe breathe. When we are nervous or tense or teary, we all tend to breathe through our noses. Breathing through an open mouth will give you more strength. Breathe before any point that's upsetting. Breathe more than once if you need to steady yourself. Take your time.
- Use your body. Moving your body encourages you to breathe and steadies you.
- Every line of a sad story isn’t necessarily sad. Chances are there are moments of humor, anger, and other emotions in the story you want to share. Don’t hide those other feelings under a blanket of sadness. Find those other feelings and let them out.
Telling meaningful stories that move others is one of the most important communicative acts we have to offer. It takes guts. Give yourself props for having the courage to share. By doing so, you empower others to do the same and embolden them to live by the lessons their stories hold.