We have them. We evoke them. They confound us and delight us. They move us and cause us to move. Emotions.
As a speaker I want to effectively elicit and manage the emotions of my listeners. If the audience is feeling along with me and the characters of the stories that I relate, then they are stoked for action and inclined to receive my message. Emotional discord works against me. The audience is more likely to critique my arguments and remain passive in their response to any call to action.
Too many stats stifles the heart
Dan and Chip Heath, in their book, Made to Stick, recount some research the surprised me. It might you as well. Participants of the study were presented with differing material regarding the threatened well-being of children in Africa. Those respondents that received a statistical overview of the problem responded less generously than those who were presented with the story about the plight of one seven-year-old girl from Mali.
Additional research led to the conclusion that when people are primed to be analytical, as was the case in thinking about statistics, then their capacity to engage emotionally is diminished. That is important, because if people are not ‘feeling’ the message then they are less likely to act upon the message.
As speakers we want to inspire the audience to care about what we are talking about. The above results don’t mean we should never use numbers or science, but we need to be careful that the analytical elements don’t overwhelm and thereby undermine our appeal to people’s emotions.
Appeal to a broad base of self-interest
It appears pretty straight forward that if we want people to care about what we are saying then one quick and easy route is to present it in terms that appeal to their self interests. Where this approach loses traction, is when we think our talk must connect with how our audience will become richer or more secure. For sure, if that is the case, then highlight that benefit. However, much of what we want to communicate does not address these kinds of aspirations.
Again, borrowing from Made to Stick, people were asked to consider a scenario regarding work place advancement. Participants is the study considered that others would be primarily motivated by the job security and esteem afforded by the advancement, whereas they would be motivated by the opportunity to grow and develop.
The results of this research suggest that while money, status and security influence people they are also motivated by other interests (e.g., helping others, realizing potential, aesthetics, learning). We want to have a whole range of self-interests in mind when we are considering how to best move our audience toward caring about what we speak.
It’s Your turn
Have you had some success at emotionally connecting your audience to your talk. What did you do?by