Presentations: Avoid emotion at your peril

By April 26, 2012Presentation Skills

Ben, our “social” guru at recently posted an interesting blog by Ethos3 on “How to use emotion in presentations”. There was lots of good stuff in it to pick up on and I just wanted to add my tuppence’s worth by going back to the most basic principle about any presentation: which is, of course, that presentations are not about informing. If all your presentation does is “inform”, then please, in your own interests, cancel the presentation and send them the slides or an email. Presentations motivate activity. That activity will come down to changing, or moving in some way, how your audience of 1 or 1000 think, feel, or act. You will either be shifting their intellectual perspective about the subject matter; or altering their attitudes and feelings towards it; or inspiring them to act differently in relation to it.

That then begs the question, so what do we need to do in order to push the “action button” in our audience’s brains. The full answer is too long for now, but one of the many ways of thinking about the brain distinguishes between the rational brain and the emotional brain. We all love to think that its our rational brain that makes the ultimate decision, based of course on analysis of the situation, some good logical thought, weighing it all up, and thereby coming to a sensible conclusion – and business in particular worships at this altar.

The reality of course, as anyone who’s bought a house will tell you, is that, sure, the rational boxes in our brains need to be ticked (3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, no more than 5 miles from the station etc), but we’ll end up with a choice, and that’s where the emotional brain will kick in, 9 times out of 10 (oh yes, this feels great. I know it needs more work than any of the others, but its only a tiny bit more expensive, and c’mon, it just “feels” right!). In the final analysis, the emotional brain rules the roost. If you’re interested in this stuff and want more, then check out Switch by the Heath brothers, Dan and Chip.

Anyway, the moral of the story is that you have to find ways to communicate with your audience’s emotional brain. What’s that all about, well not enough time now, but the Ethos3 blog is a good start. From a content point of view its absolutely about the right stories, surprising facts and stats, metaphors and all that good stuff. From a performance point of view, on the other hand, its certainly about the authentic emotional state you’re giving off – and that’s another story involving our friends “mirror neurons”. In a nutshell, do you sound like you “care” about what you’re talking about? Because if you don’t, they sure as heck won’t – and frankly, why should they?!

Thanks for your blog Ethos3. As you say, people, and particularly the world of business tend to look down on and ridicule that “emotion” word – big error.

PS. Kate Peter’s comment was interesting and valid, so long as you are taking into account your audience’s cultural and emotional state. But careful – you can scare the living daylights out of folk with “authentic emotion”, which may not necessarily be your ambition – or maybe that’s exactly your aim.




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