Empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” Or, as writer Robert Greene stated when addressing a crowd of Google employees in June 2019, empathy is “basically the ability to get inside the perspective and point of view of other people, to literally see inside how other people are seeing the world.” Some view it as an essential skill to be a leader in today’s world. Others view it as a “buzzword” that companies use to prove they’re on board with the new school style of managing and nothing more. Regardless of opinion, empathy is a tool that can be used effectively by speakers, especially when addressing a diverse audience. You may not share a similar background, ethnicity, gender, age range, etc. You may not be able to relate completely, but you can always empathize. Here are three ways to empathize with your audience.

  1. Talk to individuals from the demographics represented. The key here is to ensure you’re actively listening. It would be best if you tried to hear what the individual is telling you regardless of whether you agree with what they’re saying. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to increase your understanding.
  2. Take some time and see if you can put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Putting yourself in the audience’s shoes is great after you’ve talked to individuals from your audiences demographics. Genuinely think about how you would feel if you were in their situation. Ask yourself what you would want and need to hear. If you want to know whether you’re on the right track, go back and talk to the individuals from the different demographics in your audience.
  3. Don’t be afraid to share a personal story that will help you relate to the crowd but remember, the focus of the message should be on the audience, not you. If this action is done right, it will help you relate to the audience. It will enable you to build an emotional connection. In the speaking world, we call this establishing “pathos.” It is one of the most valuable things a speaker can do.

One of the most remarkable displays of empathizing is Robert Kennedy’s address to a predominately African American crowd on April 4, 1968, in Indianapolis, several hours after Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. Kennedy was initially scheduled to deliver a campaign speech but changed course after finding out aboutDr. King’s assassination.

Robert Kennedy, who hailed from a wealthy family of Irish-American descent, was able to empathize with his audience who were predominately working and lower-class African Americans during a time when emotions were running high.

  • The family member Robert Kennedy refers to in the speech below is John F. Kennedy. This speech was Robert Kennedy’s first time publicly addressing his brother’s assassination, which made Kennedy’s statement much more powerful. It had been over five years since the assassination occurred.
  • 1:20 – 3:00 is where Kennedy begins empathizing with his audience.
History Channel (YouTube)

Click Here for a transcript of Robert Kennedy’s remarks.

Did you notice anything else about Robert Kennedy’s remarks?

How can you incorporate empathy into your next speech or presentation?

Published by A.L.H.S.

I'm a young man looking to share his light with the world. I've had the opportunity to lead diverse teams of emergency responders, planners, trainers, and human resource professionals. I've previously served as President of a Toastmasters (Public Speaking) club. Fun fact, I've lived and worked in 3 different countries. My academic background is in Emergency Management and Political Science.

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