• open panel

Is It Ever OK to Cry When You’re Presenting? It Depends.


I watched a TED Talk recently in which the speaker, Dr. Peter Attia, choked up.  His throat caught as he appeared to be fighting back tears.  The emotions which surfaced were a mixture of regret, remorse and shame.  He came across as sincere and committed to the topic of this talk – challenging the way we think about diabetes and obesity.

Here’s his TED Talk.

 Is It Ever OK to Cry When You’re Presenting?  It Depends

While this ultimately has to be a question that each presenter must answer for his or herself, here are some rules in making the decision in touching on an emotional topic.

When It’s NOT OK to Present on an Emotional Topic

Unresolved Issues

A presentation is NOT an appropriate substitute for therapy.  If you cannot talk about the subject without breaking down and sobbing, you’re not ready to present on the topic.

If your emotions come from unresolved issues, work through those issues first.  See a therapist or talk to your clergy.  Write as a way to work out the emotions.  Don’t the speaking platform to air  your grievances, resentments or shame.  Work through it privately first.

If you haven’t resolved you personal feelings about issue, imagine how your audience will feel.  At best, they’ll be uncomfortable.  At worse, they’ll want to distance themselves from the uneasiness and your message.  They will discount your message because your emotions will appear to be ruling you without consideration for logic or the bigger picture.  Don’t present on a topic if you still have unresolved issues.

Too Soon

Maybe time doesn’t heal all wounds but it does make it easier to discuss painful memories.

Perhaps the reason you’re not able to discuss an issue is that it’s still too fresh and your emotions are too raw.  What you have to say may be important but give yourself some time.  No one is expecting you to talk before your ready.  Give yourself some more time.


When It Is OK to Present Emotionally

Obviously, the prerequisites are the opposite of what is mentioned above – when you’ve worked through unresolved issues and can speak without sobbing and when enough time has passed when you can discuss without totally breaking down.  But there’s more that needs to be present to make it OK for you to present when you may get choked up.

Be Sincere

Maybe this goes without saying but if you’re getting choked up, it better be genuine and not contrived to persuade your audience.

It’s OK that Dr. Attia got choked up because he was authentic.

Audiences can tell when you’re faking it.

Be in the moment and be sincere.

Include Logic within Your Presentation

Notice that Dr. Attia’s appeal wasn’t purely emotional.  He included his story but he also spoke using logic to explain his change of perspective and his approach.  While emotions may persuade us, facts and logic help us justify that we’re on the right path.  Give your audience logic along with your emotions.

Cover an Important Subject when Your Vulnerability Can Influence Others

Dr. Attia could have spoken unemotionally about his ideas lone.  His ideas had merit.  But what he’s done by being vulnerable is help us to open up to his ideas and to our own emotions.  He helps us to feel what he feels — and maybe even identify with him for having similar thoughts.  While people may not have the same emotional attachment as you, be willing to be vulnerable so they can relate to you and better relate to your point.


You Have to Decide

I’ve never understood how family members and close friends can deliver a eulogy.  It doesn’t matter how much I love public speaking — and I do — I know I could have never delivered a eulogy at my mother’s funeral.  Yet, I have seen others deliver wonderful, loving eulogies for their loved ones.  Ultimately you have to make the call as to whether or not you’re in the right place mentally to talk about an emotionally charged issue.  Only you can decide if you’re willing for all the right reasons.  It all depends.


Your Thoughts

Did I get it right?  Wrong?  Add your comments below — even if they’re emotionally charged!


Steve Cohn
Steve Cohn

I agree with everything you said and would like to add one more thing. You have to be careful with deep, emotional stories and issues. By bringing the audience in, you are not only being vulnerable yourself, but you're making them vulnerable too. The great speaker Michael Scott Karpovich taught me early in my career that if you're going to go there, you must break it up with humor. The humor gives the audience a chance to breathe and release. Once they do that, they can go back to your story. As Karp put it, "You don't want to emotionally rape your audience. They'll wake up the next morning and think, "What was that all about" when they think of your speech and resent you for it..


Excellent point, Steve! Giving the audience a well-timed piece of humor gives them relief and release from the emotional topic. Thanks for contributing to the conversation! Thanks for adding to the conversation.