Many clients—particularly female clients—have told me they will do almost anything to avoid speaking at  social gatherings, such as weddings, special birthdays, or memorial services, because they fear they will burst into tears during their speeches.

Many brides truly wish to express their joy and gratitude at their weddings, but are terrified to do so lest their emotions “betray” them. What is often described as stage fright is really a fear of choking up or being embarrassed.  But I always encourage brides to seize the opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings at this usually once-in-a-lifetime occasion, because all the most important people in their lives are gathered together at that moment.  When will they be offered another such chance?

Why can emotion clog the throat of even the most experienced speaker?  And what can be done to avoid it?  How can you handle it gracefully?

Being prepared ahead of time with lots of tactics to control the waterworks will give you confidence;  so don’t shy away from speaking at an important occasion because you fear emotion will overtake you.  Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  1. Professor Ad Vingerhoets at Tilburg University is an expert on emotional tears. He believes self-inflicted physical pain can distract you from emotional pain long enough to stop you from crying. What to do?  Pinch the bridge of your nose, where the tear ducts are, or pinch the webbed piece of skin between your thumb and second finger.

DISCLAIMER:  I’ve never actually done this myself because I’ve never felt totally out of control, nor do I easily inflict pain on myself….And the nose thing can be  a bit of a give-away, but hey!  Lots of experts say this works very well!

  1. Professor Vingerhoets also suggests, for those of us who are pain-averse, that increasing muscle tension and moving may also limit the crying response, because crying is a passive and helpless reaction. The opposite of feeling helpless is feeling in control, and you can manufacture that feeling by tensing your muscles.
  2. Others are in the habit of tilting their heads up slightly so that the tears cannot flow down. Personally, I can’t see this working well for someone whose tears have already started, though it may do the trick if you are just starting to feel your eyes well.
  3. Since we’re discussing the eye area, there are a number opportunities here, and one may work for you. You can stare into the middle distance (though not for long, or you will disengage with the audience) Or….
  4. Hold your eyes open wide and don’t blink very often. This suggestion is based on the theory that is it easier to keep the tears from starting than it is to stop them after they begin to fall. (try not to look too weird when you do this!)
  5. Raise your eyebrows as high as they can go; this can make it easier to hold back tears.
  6. Cross your eyes or roll them several times. No kidding!  You may want to only do this when no one is close enough to see you, (often the case when you are behind a podium—however, if the speech is being videotaped, you may be in trouble!) Aside from mentally distracting yourself, crossing one’s eyes apparently also physically keeps the tears from forming.
  7. Close your eyes. This will give you a moment to focus on what is happening. Pair that with several deep breaths and you may be able to calm yourself down and focus on not crying.
  8. While not moving your head, look up with your eyes. It is almost impossible to cry when you do this.

I’m going to switch gears here.  I have other physical blocks to suggest, but I’m going to reserve them for next week’s post, because my last tip is probably the most important and the most effective:

  1. Practice, practice, practice! When your speech is written out and you rehearse it, you say aloud many, many times those lines that you predict will evoke tears.  Saying it over and over—out loud and possibly in front of a mirror– will drain some of the emotion out of the thought or memory.  If you do it enough times, those words become…just words.  Once you can say it without your throat closing up and your eyes filling, you can start to put some of the emotion back into your delivery.  The difference is that you are now in control, and the emotion is much easier to manage.

Try it!  And don’t dismiss an opportunity to speak in public because you don’t trust yourself….

Please visit the blog next week for more tips on delivering your speech without tears, and share any special tricks of your own that you  may have up your sleeve!