Firstly, here comes the disclaimer: Who am I to offer advice on how to keep it together?
Yes, I do have a lot of work experience, the kind you might think would help me to be an expert on the subject of how not to become a sniveler, sappy, crybaby, girlie-man who cries when he sees an event, like a squirrel hiding their nuts in the ground.
Never drink alcohol before making a presentation of any kind (if there is any chance of becoming unwound or losing it, alcohol is guaranteed to bring on a performer's emotional undoing).
Certainly I'm not the first nor will I be the last speaker who worries about keeping it together (not losing it) when the subject of the presentation is one of such heart-rendering emotion. It tests our ability as caring human beings to keep from losing it; a time when we find ourselves unable to continue. I’ve been there on many occasions during the course of my professional appearances.
One would be inclined to think the ability to perform without an overt display of emotion would become easier as one gains in experience. Yes and no. The bottom line, of course, is who we really are as individuals.
Obviously, we’re not all the same. Some of us, by nature are just more emotional than others. An obvious assertion.
For the sake of conversation, I’m limiting what I have to say to those of us who make, or are destined to make presentations to groups in public.
Regardless as to whether or not we have emotional stability in our every day life, we are faced with the task of performing as professionals; reportage, being an event guide, or speaking on behalf of a group of people, either paid, or as an obligation to assist during a time of crisis. The thickest of human skin has suffered through a melt-down at always the most inopportune of times. It could come during an audition for the lowliest of jobs. Environment as well as subject matter, or what may have recently occurred in your (our) own personal life,
Activate the emotional trigger. When pulled, it creates a will of its own.
Holding it together while rendering the voice during a fundraiser commercial for deprived children is one form of public service announcement, which almost always promotes more emotional involvement than the norm. There are many more of similar category.
Have you ever wondered how people who appear to be like you in every way, manage to hold it together, and still show attachment for the subject, or the event they are tending to? This coming at a time when you are inwardly concerned with your own personage.
There are methods, tricks of the trade, supposedly designed to enable one to go on with his or her presentation, while experiencing a lip beginning to quiver or a mouth becoming dry, as a personal sensitivity to the subject matter begins finding it’s way to an uncomfortable place of no return.
I marvel at those who have mastered their own personal method of being able to perform with great passion, while being able to keep from presenting an out-of-control display of emotion. Some very strong men and women have shed a tear during one of these moments.
Many high profile and prominent leaders use the method of reading and rereading a script over and over again, until they supposedly become immune to experiencing an uncontrolled display of emotion. This method carries with it the risk of being perceived as uncaring.
Of course the easiest of all tricks to remember would be an inward feeling or expression of anger, or dismay.
(Even the wrong attitude can serve as something to focus in on in order to break away from what you feel is about to happen.)
What follows is a thumbnail look at some of history's grand men and women, who managed to make it through a variety of trying events.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressing congress, and asking for a declaration of war following the December 7, 1941 sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. He was deathly serious, angry, and personally affronted by “a date that will live in infamy,” as he put it.
Our president's visage was grave. Our country had suffered one of the worst indignities; we were hit, and our only alternative was retaliation.
For our president, tears were not an option. Can you imagine if FDR went before congress, and began to sob as he asked them for a declaration of war?
Sir Winston Churchill was in my opinion the best of the very best. Historians have a positive consensus of opinion regarding his ability to rally his country and, many feel, ours as well.
In 1941, as his country experienced the death toll of air raids as a nightly regimen, Sir Winston stepped to the podium in order to address the congress of the United States for the first time.
“[Japan’s leaders] have certainly embarked on a very considerable undertaking [Laughter]…What kind of people do they think we are?”
And for the above, Sir Winston received a standing ovation. Perhaps the most monumentally depressive moment in world history, was never the less treated with the aplomb and dignity only a person of his stature could possibly have effectuated.
"Undertaking" (the word), signifying the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and "undertaking" (the word) as the reference to the corpse at a funeral home, was delivered to congress with complete and total understanding. Hence a moment of laughter, ultimately followed by a standing and thunderous ovation of thanks for the encouragement.
In this situation… there was no time for the shedding of tears. He was a world leader, at work, leading!
The thought of breaking down never entered Winston Churchill’s mind.
Although FDR and Winston Churchill were experiencing a never before crises of overpowering magnitude, the scope of the historical events preceding their speeches far out weighed the grief of any individual's suffering. Their concern was for the survival of their respective countries. It becomes far more difficult to contain one's self when the suffering is individualized.
An athlete making a goodbye or farewell speech at the end of a career, upon retirement, often turns into a tearjerker for all concerned.
I’m always reminded of the movie “Pride Of The Yankees,” when Gary Cooper playing the part of the famous Yankee first baseman Lou Gehrig, steps up to the microphone at a packed Yankee Stadium, and delivers the now immortal line, “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man in the world”; there wasn’t a dry eye in the theater. He touched us as individuals. His loss became ours, and so the tears flowed. In retrospect, much of Lou Gehrig’s departure speech did serve as encouragement for thousands of people who found they too suffering through some form or another of life’s unforeseen trials. Doubtful if this category of speech can ever be properly prepared for.
At a time in her career when the press as well as the parliament was tossing rocks and boulders at her, she managed from deep within an effervescence, which served as a rallying point for herself and her country at the same time. She stepped up to the microphone on what was to be recorded as one of her most auspicious outings.
It came at a particularly trying time for the prime minister of England, but as opposed to succumbing to human and emotional upheaval, she followed in the sublime footsteps of Sir Winston, as she delivered with:
“Disciplining yourself to do what you know is right and importance, although difficult, is the highroad to pride, self-esteem, and personal satisfaction.”
“I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, they have not a single political argument left.”
And for me, the most difficult performance assignment is definitely the one where I know in advance of the people who will be in the audience. Those who, along with me, have experienced a loss, or a change of guard, after many years of personal association.
A real life recent example of this would have been delivering the eulogy of the late great basketball announcer, Chick Hearn. (I’m glad I wasn’t the one chosen for this assignment). In this particular case, the high visibility of this very personal individual brings with it the additional pressures of a celebrity-packed audience.
(Note: If you’re ever called on to extol the virtues during the celebration of a person’s life, it’s a necessity to stay focused. Putting names with the faces in the audience can be a terrible distraction. Eye contact is not the key to a good performance in this instance. Seeing a close friend or acquaintance begin to tear up isn’t exactly a stabilizing factor.)
Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.
"I Owe It To Them" Attitude
Some events are obviously far more taxing then others. As the master of ceremonies at a local beauty pageant, the danger of me being driven to tears would not normally exist.
(I mean, how bad could it be, surrounded by a group of look good, smell good, bright young women who by nature are seeking approval.)