Speaking from the Heart vs Using Techniques

Craig Senior 2007-12-16

Heart PulsingTouching an audience profoundly is what many speakers hope for. We want our words and ideas to survive the closing applause, to be remembered, to manifest themselves as future actions by those who heard them. Among the many elements of a delivered speech, I am often asked whether it is more effective to speak from the heart or use great speaking techniques?

In a debate in August, 2000, I took the side of speaking from the heart:

What is Speaking From the Heart?

Before we sell the merits of speaking from the heart, we must first define what it means.  What does it mean to speak from the heart?  It is a metaphor for speaking with genuine emotion.  It is not deliberately inserting emotional material to elicit emotional responses from the audience.  It isn’t just telling sad stories.  Who says the only emotion from the heart is sadness? If your heart is glad, let it be glad!  Speaking from the heart is being fully present and in the moment.  It is being centered.  It is sharing from your essence, in each moment.  It is being authentic, being real.  It is about sharing your feelings with the audience and inviting them to share with you.  Too much focus on technique bulldozes the audience’s desire to feel with you.  They don’t get a chance to join in because we’re too busy showing them our latest techniques.

From the Heart?

Recently, I heard a dull, listless presentation by a speaker, after which the introducer marvelled at how the speaker, “always speaks from the heart.”  I was dumbfounded.  The level of passion in this presentation was something akin to advanced tax accounting or mortician training.  If it was from the heart, my heart struck an iceberg and sank…

The Mouse Roared

On another occasion, I participated in coaching some young people in presentation skills.  Each person was to speak for three to four minutes.  Then I was to ask them a question to give them practice on answering audience questions.  One person shared a difficult life moment and another shared their delight with a long-time loving relationship.  My coaching to them before they spoke consisted of encouraging them to open up to their feelings as they shared their story.

The one sharing the difficulty spoke quietly, with their head down, and very little body movement, but the words!  This young person spoke with absolute clarity and wisdom.  The end of the presentation was marked by silence.  Everyone looked at me expecting “the question.”  I apologized. “I’m sorry,” I said.  “I have no question; I was totally captivated by what you shared with us.”

I’ve heard hundreds of speeches.  How could I get lost in thought?  It was because this person spoke from the heart.  The emotions that were shared with us were shock and sadness.

The person sharing their joy with a loving relationship of several years lit up as they spoke.  We saw it in the face and body movements and heard it in the voice.  Everything about the presentation showed us that the speaker was genuinely delighted with what was happening in their relationship.  We could hear it, see it, and feel it.  This person spoke from the heart.  The emotion was joy.

These two speakers required no preparation, no practice, and used no techniques that they were aware of, yet they communicated effectively.  They clearly expressed their ideas and delivered them with emotions congruent with their message.  They shared a piece of themselves, and in doing so, allowed us to share with them.

Christopher Reeves… Technique?

Years ago, Christopher Reeves was paralyzed in a horse riding accident.  Years later, from his wheelchair, he spoke about walking again and the supportive love of his family.  How effective were his techniques? — Body language?  None. Gestures?  Nope.  Facial expressions?  Almost none.  Voice?  Raspy and very low volume.  But when he spoke, I was glued.  I was moved when he told of the importance of having a positive attitude.  I was inspired when he shared his conviction that he WILL walk again.  The sparkle in his eye as he spoke of his wife shone through any lack of technique.  Christopher Reeves spoke from the heart and I listened.Heart

The Passionate Heart

In 1980, I attended History 1000 at Memorial University, taught by Dr. Malcolm MacLeod, a slight man, bearded, pleasant.  At the start of the term, his class was full. His subject was causation in history and the burden of unity in Canadian history.  He presented with great passion, almost romantically.  Sometimes he held the textbook in one hand while he waved off the ghosts of dead politicians with the other.  Other times, he would stop, squint thoughtfully, and pose a question to the class.  He LOVED what he did.  At the end of the term, his class was still full. Need I say more? Speaking from the heart doesn’t limit the subject to heartfelt matters.  Yes, even accounting can be interesting if the presenter is genuinely interested and allows that enthusiasm to shine through. 

The Courage to Find My Heartlion3-web-sm.jpg

Six years of membership in Toastmasters took me on a journey, a journey first of mustering the courage to stand and speak through my stuttering while feeling my fear of doing just that.  Then it taught me a collection of great techniques: how to stand, how to hold my hand, how to use my voice, how to structure a speech, etc. This part of my journey dissatisfied me.  It gave me many answers, but missed the one most important one.  It wasn’t until I started studying voice with Barclay McMillan and magnetic speaking with Lee Glickstein that my search went to a new level, beyond technique.

Barclay and Lee encourage us to become integral with our subject matter, neither memorized, nor driven by technique.  They encourage us to move with the feeling and allow the audience to move along with us.  When we unite with the audience then neither they, nor we, concern ourselves with technique. Being there is more important, speaking from our core of our passion, speaking from our heart.

Some Examples of Speaking from the Heart

I happened upon some great examples of what I felt were people speaking from the heart. If you find some, please send them along and I will post them.

Hillary Clinton “This is very personal”



May we all find this level of passion and free expression!


11 Responses

  1. Dear Sir,

    I hope this finds you well,

    I actually need your help about a problem I’m suffering of…the problem is that I need to perform better with my wife. I know I love her and she knows that also, but I don’t speak enough and I DON’T KNOW HOW TO EXPRESS MY FEELINGS to CONVERT THEM TO WORDS!!
    what should I do? what should I say? and how? I trust your suggestions…I really do.

    Thank you Sir

  2. This is the first time anyone ever asked me for help about relating. Let’s see if you find this helpful. You are challenged to express your feelings, yet you seem to love your wife very much and she loves you.

    This might seem simple: just begin. Begin like the first time you rode a bicycle – it wobbled. It was not smooth. Begin by expressing the feeling to your wife that you love her very much. That is an expression of feelings that I am sure she will welcome. You will wobble. It might be difficult. Do it.

    Then ask, unless she has already explained this to you, that you understand that she would appreciate it if you expressed your feelings toward her more. Maybe explore it together, asking what in your past might have caused you to be like that. It might be a cultural expectation: men do not express their feelings. It might be that you experienced a loss when you expressed your feeling when you were younger. I do not know. What I believe is that the exploration will bring you closer together.

    Let her know that you will work towards expressing your feelings today. Perhaps ask her to help out with simple, open questions like, “How are you feeling today?” and ask her to accept whatever answer you provide. If you answer, “I am going to the store,” or some other task, ask her to lovingly point out that you expressed a task, not a feeling and try again.

    Smile at each other when you wobble. As you wobble, you will become stronger until one day, it might become so easy to express your feelings and you will wonder why you ever wobbled.

  3. sir, i wanna ask, is presentation a technique?

  4. Hi Ziad,
    Your question is difficult to answer, so I will try to rephrase it:

    Is presenting a technique?
    Is delivering a presentation a technique?

    Yes and no.

    Yes, some preparation is helpful, even if only a couple of minutes to prepare a few ideas. This is a technique.

    Sequencing those ideas is a technique.

    Before you stand up to deliver, visualizing how you will speak and present is a technique.

    As you speak, controlling your breath can be a technique for some, naturally for others.

    The voice you use can be a technique; the voice that emerges from allowing yourself to feel and show the emotions of your material might be considered a technique, or not. If you are super conscious about it, it might be technique. If you are not conscious about your voice, it might not be technique.

    Planning to use space (stage blocking) is a technique. How you actually use the space and incorporate whatever happens in the moment might not be technique.

    Allowing punctuating or demonstrating guestures might be technique if you are trying to do it. Punctuating while telling a story to a friend at a café might not be technique.

    I hope these ideas are helpful. If they are not, please ask your question again and give me more details about your question.


  5. Dear Sir,
    i was wondering if u could help me. I have the same problem as the first person. im not good at speaking from the heart. but i can pull it off at points. My problem is when me and my girl friend that i love so much get into arguments she gets all upset that i cant apologize from the heart. How do i do this? i have tried many of ways but i still fail and she gets so upset. I really need help on this!


  6. That was a great article. Very insightful. I loved the stories. Thank you!!

  7. It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button!

    I’d definitely donate to this excellent blog! I suppose for now i’ll
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    Chat soon!

  8. Hi, after reading this amazing article i am too glad to share my familiarity
    here with mates.

    • Great stuff Craig! Thank you!

      Nicole Savoie Toastmasters in Montreal

      • Aw, thanks!

  9. Thanks for ones marvelous posting! I truly enjoyed reading it, you will be a great author.
    I will make sure to bookmark your blog and will often come back at
    some point. I want to encourage you continue your great writing, have a nice

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