“Emotional Resonance.” Those words ring loudly in my head, even three years after hearing them in a Toastmasters’ context. This is what happened:

I had just competed giving the best speech I had ever presented at any time (before or since). My performance at the District 84, Division F Spring Speech Contest was outstanding. I had great vocal variety. My staging was flawless. My words excited the audience. My message came across clearly – “one more day, one more step and your dreams will come true.” I inspired them with my demonstration, pulling out an old pair of slacks to show how I had lost over 100 pounds. Afterward, people came up to me. They were going to lose weight or set new goals. Three years later, people still talk about the speech and what it meant to them.

I came in second place. I came in second to a lady who didn’t wow the audience like I had. I admit – I didn’t really watch or listen attentively. I was still practicing mine. She was very good. She had a clear message. She did touch the audience. She talked about “inner strength” that her father had instilled in her as a child, and how it became so important when her fiancé left her, and when her father passed away. I was moved. But was it better than mine?

After the contest, the District’s Lt. Governor of Education and Training, and my friend Dave Hollingshead, came up to me. He congratulated me for a terrific speech. Then he said, “If it’s any consolation, the reason she won was because she had more ‘emotional resonance’ with the audience.”


It took me months to understand. Eventually I recognized the difference between our speeches. While I “wowed” and excited the audience, while I inspired them and made a lasting impression, while I touched their minds and souls, I did not touch their hearts.

Emotional resonance is connecting with your audience on a basic emotional level; touching their hearts, making them feel. The more emotions you can release in your audience, the more “emotional resonance” your speech has.

Experts say there are six universal emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear and disgust. I think there is a seventh – boredom – but I don’t want my audience to experience that.

My speech made my audience feel happy and surprised. So did hers. But she also made them feel sad and angry and afraid. She got the audience outraged at her fiancé, in tears at her Dad’s passing, and lost without direction each time. Then she lifted them up with the words her father taught her about “inner strength.”
With that, she won the contest, and eventually came in third at the District contest.

I am not saying that mine did not touch my audience. I am saying that hers brought her audience on more of a roller coaster ride, taking them over exhilarating highs, through poignant lows, and bringing them back safely with her. Those feelings echoed in them long after she walked off the stage

What About Your Next Speech?

Does your speech touch your audience’s emotions? Does it bring them on an emotional roller coaster? Does it have true “emotional resonance?”
Here’s how to begin. Make a list of some memorable events in your life. Just write a few words to help you remember. As you review the list, recall how you felt as each situation developed. Write that down, also. Were you happily content to start? As the episode evolved, did you feel anger, or fear? When it was over, were you elated, proud or relieved?

Next consider what lessons you learned from each experience. How did it change your life? There can be more than one lesson from each story.

I am not saying that every speech has to be about tragedy overcome. I have heard exceptionally stirring speeches about bringing a child to college, being bumped from a plane flight, and bringing the family to a movie. These were simple stories similar to those in our own lives.

That is a key. We, as the audience, can relate to you and your experience when we have something in common.

Now you have the foundation of your speech. Pick one story. Decide on the message you want the audience remember after they leave. Start telling your story. Develop all the essentials of storytelling: the characters, the setting. Build up the conflict. Describe the action leading to the resolution. Finally, explain the lesson, and your message to us. If you have time, add another story that shows how you applied the lesson again. Then, give us a call to action to apply those principles in our own lives.

When you can touch more lows and highs in your speech, when you can take your audience on a thrilling roller coaster ride, you will create a stronger “emotional resonance” that bonds with your audience. We will thank you for taking us on a special adventure.

I want a ticket for that ride.

Author's Bio: 

Fred Haley has been a member of Toastmasters for over 12 years. He has earned two Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) awards. Fred has presented workshops on public speaking, story telling, having a message and improving presentation skills. He started www.ToastMentor.com to help other Toastmasters.