emotional stories

How-To Keep Composure While Moving an Audience to Action 

Many nonprofit organizations are busting at the seams with emotional stories that tug on the heartstrings. Stories of hardship, poverty, abuse, and heartbreak may be difficult to share and difficult to hear but they are real and deserve to be told. For real change to occur, your audience must be in touch with the reality of the situations your organization addresses. Your audience will appreciate the privilege of getting to know your organization and your mission on a deeper level. 

If you haven’t been sharing these types of emotional stories because you didn’t know how or the thought makes you nervous – this article is for you. Learning the benefits of delivering hard-hitting stories and how to do so in a tasteful way that doesn’t overwhelm the person sharing the story or the audience listening, will help you raise money and change more lives.

The goal of good communication is to increase better connection. Knowing that people or organizations we admire have also had to overcome struggle tells us that they are relatable and creates a bond. When someone is willing to share their trials, it makes them likable because it show us they are authentic. When you can use authenticity to create connection and induce emotion in your audience, they will be more likely to get on board with your message and mission. 

As famous mythologist Joseph Campbell explains, “When an audience listens to stories of ordinary people called to great things it helps confirm the belief that we can also become heroes in our own lives.”

Showing emotion is by far one of the best ways to connect authentically with your audience. That being said, it is very important that if the story is highly-charged with lots of intense emotion, the person who is sharing their story is sure they are comfortable with discussing it and have come to terms with the outcomes before delivering it to an audience. 

There is a fine line walked when it comes to emotion, especially when sharing stories in person. Done right, the audience is engaged and involved. Done wrong, everyone feels uncomfortable and awkward. Showing emotion is important but so is making it through the delivery.

Let’s cover 5 tips for delivering emotional stories that will help with keeping composure and avoid alienating an audience. I also encourage you to share these tips with beneficiaries, donors, volunteers, family members, staff or any guest speaker who may share their story at your next event or webinar.

Tip #1: Practice, Practice, Practice. 

By practicing your delivery ahead of time, you are able to emotionally anticipate what is coming. Rehearsing the story several times gives the person delivering the ability to experience and process the emotions associated with it beforehand. Doing a sound check/tech check run-through in the event setting or online platform will also help ease added anxiety that comes with public speaking.

Tip #2: Avoid eye-contact, sometimes. 

This may sound strange, but sometimes in special circumstances, emotions can become triggered by making eye contact with certain members of the audience. Try not to look at these people until after you have delivered your message.

Tip #3: Give yourself time to breathe. 

If you feel a strong emotion arising simply pause, take a deep breath, and try to refocus.

Tip #4: Have notes. 

Sometimes, when emotions are running high, it is easy to lose track of what you are saying. Having notes is not only acceptable in these instances, but encouraged. It is comforting to know you can go back and find your place if you find yourself getting distracted in the moment.

Tip #5: Please read this part carefully 

While you want to make an injustice or a hard truth clear, you don’t want to live there. When telling a story, it is important to help the audience focus on what is right in addition to what is wrong. When explaining a negative situation or a struggle, explain what happened, paint the picture, allow the audience to sit with the discomfort for a moment, and then move on to how it was improved or how it can be rectified. 

If the situation is still ongoing, invite to audience to become a part of the solution. In other words, it is important to communicate the emotion and urgency of the struggle your organization provides the solution for, but the ultimate goal is to prompt your audience to donate, volunteer, or learn more by providing a clear and inspiring call to auction.

PRO TIP: A good rule of thumb is to keep the story between 3-5 minutes. If you want to learn more about how to produce emotion in your audience, read The Science of Storytelling: How to use brain science to evoke emotion in your audience and get them to give!

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Madison Gonzalez

Madison Gonzalez

Community Involvement and Events Manager at Morning Light, Inc.
Madison Gonzalez is a National Public Speaker, Storyteller of the Year Award-Winner, Best-Selling Author of Dear Mirror, Events Manager, and Published Poet. As a non-profit storytelling coach and consultant, it is her mission to empower others to share their stories for impact and income. She can be reached at madison@toldcoaching.com.
Madison Gonzalez