Why John Boehner’s Crying Is Selfish

Oprah Winfrey calls it the “ugly cry” – the kind of crying that leaves a person unable to get through his words as his voice quivers and his lips tremble.

We saw an example of the ugly cry on Tuesday night, when Republicans took control of the House and Rep. John Boehner became the next Speaker.

Now, I’m not unsympathetic to Mr. Boehner. His emotions appear genuine, and he is rightly proud of his personal accomplishment.

But this speech was not supposed to be about Mr. Boehner. It was supposed to focus on the needs of the American people. It was supposed to address his party’s plans to create jobs for out-of-work Americans. And it was supposed to speak for his party and his colleagues.

Instead, Mr. Boehner’s crying became a headline that distracted from his party’s message, with more than 82,000 Google results appearing just this week for “John Boehner crying.” That means Rep. Boehner missed a key opportunity to communicate effectively to the many millions of Americans tuned in to election night coverage.

So what should you do if you are speaking about something emotional? Here are three tips:

1. Test The Distraction: Crying isn’t necessarily a bad thing in public presentations. Ask yourself in advance whether crying over tough emotional material would distract the audience from your main message. If you’re speaking to an audience about your struggle with breast cancer, for example, you’re probably on safe ground.

2. Know Your Limits: If you determine that crying would detract from your message, kill the portions of the speech that are most likely to trip you up and find another way of communicating the same information. Mr. Boehner has a history of getting emotional when he speaks, and should have known that speaking about his family would choke him up. His speech would have been better without it, and the next day’s headlines would have focused on his message.

3. Pause and Switch: If you find yourself getting unexpectedly emotional during a talk, pause. It may feel like a lifetime to you, but the few seconds won’t seem as long to the audience. During the pause, consider abandoning the emotional portion of your speech and transitioning back to your big picture, with a line such as, “My point is this – I’ve seen the struggles of the American people, and we are committed to making life easier for those who are struggling. We’re going to do that by….”