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How to Make an Emotional Speech

by Chris Burke ; Updated September 26, 2017
Telling a story can get your audience emotionally involved.

Conveying an emotion to a crowd is no easy task. People give emotional speeches in order to convince their audience to feel a certain way about a subject. An example is an inspiring speech a coach gives his players before a game, or a moving eulogy by a family member during a funeral. In order to give an effective emotional speech, public speakers must hold the audience’s attention. Your goal should be to plan not only what you want to say, but how you want to say it.

Research historic speeches to see how effective speakers such as Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy used cadence and their bodies to project emotions.

Consider your audience. A speech to an atheist student group probably will need very different language than one to an audience of church-going retirees. Write a list of your audiences' hopes, cultural backgrounds and shared experiences. Think about what kinds of topics evoke an emotional response in your audience so you can use those triggers in your speech.

Start your speech with an emotional story. This will hook your audience and frame the rest of the speech. This does not have to be involved, and can be just a few lines. For example, Ronald Reagan began his speech to the nation after the 1986 Challenger disaster by mentioning the fatal Apollo 1 fire that occurred almost two decades before: "Nineteen years ago, almost to the day, we lost three astronauts in a terrible accident on the ground. But we've never lost an astronaut in flight; we've never had a tragedy like this. And perhaps we've forgotten the courage it took for the crew of the shuttle." Even though he wasn't focusing on the Apollo 1 disaster, by introducing his speech with this image, the president primed his listeners to feel the same shock and sorrow the nation experienced in 1967.

Draw on shared experiences and images to serve as emotional cues. If your audience associates a symbol with a certain emotion, tying your idea with that association can stir the same emotion in your listeners. Seed these cues throughout your speech. In his Challenger speech, Reagan tried to console the shocked families of the astronauts, and told schoolchildren who had watched in horror as the tragedy unfolded on television: "The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow them." His references to family and children made the speech more personal and encouraged listeners to think about what it would feel like if they had lost a relative in the accident.

Contrast emotional states, making people feel positive emotions, then negative, then positive again. By doing this, you make your audience feel the emotions of each stage more intensely.

Conclude your speech with a story, ending on the emotion you wish to convey overall. This way your audience will leave the speech in that emotional state. Reagan ended his Challenger speech with a reference to the death of Sir Francis Drake aboard ship 390 years before, and mentioned the great explorer's courage and dedication. By telling this story, he connected the sacrifices of the Challenger crew with those of Drake: " Well, today we can say of the Challenger crew: Their dedication was, like Drake's, complete." Because people can think about the good things that came from the exploration of the world, despite the tragedies, Reagan left his audience with the feeling the Challenger's loss was not in vain.

Tips

  • Metaphors such as mothers, children and animals are often cues for positive emotions. Consider using classic examples like these. Likewise, dangerous animals are an example of images commonly associated with negative emotions.

About the Author

Chris Burke began writing professionally in 2007. In addition to writing for student-run literary journals in college, he has authored content for The George Washington University, as well as the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Burke holds a Bachelor of Arts in international affairs and is pursuing a law degree from Columbia University.

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