I am watching Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, give a TED talk about classical music. I am engaged. Moved even! This isn’t a topic about which I am particularly knowledgeable or passionate. So why the connect? It’s because Zander is genuinely enthused about classical music. It oozes out of him in his gestures, his voice, his interactions and his stories. My response is because of his emotion-packed delivery. This is important for any speaker to know: positive emotions lead to positive responses.
Reasons to elicit positive emotions
According to Psychology Today, consumers use feelings and experience rather than facts and features to make their evaluation of brands. This tendency to rely on emotional cues extends beyond product marketing. People use their emotional engagement with the speaker and the topic to help them frame their response. If they aren’t feelin’ it, there is a good chance they aren’t doing it. Here is the take away: if you are trying to persuade your audience, then connecting with them emotionally will help.
Maya Angelou, author, poet and civil rights activist writes,
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
The fact is that emotionally charged events are processed more intensely and persist longer in memory than events that are emotionally neutral. For the public speaker this means if you don’t want people to quickly forget what you say, you need to find ways to ensures emotions are in play.
Using storytelling to connect emotionally
There are several things speakers can do that will foster emotional engagement. I alluded to a few in my opening regarding Benjamin Zander: he is genuinely enthused, uses body language, intonation and storytelling. Let me say a bit more about the last one.
Research done by Paul Zak, professor at Claremont College shows that tension within a story creates sustained attention which in turn facilitates a greater emotional bond between the listener and the characters. That kind of positive connection not only predisposes people to mimic the characters’ feelings and actions after the story ends, but also can lead to the release of oxytocin.
At this point you might be thinking, “So?”. Let me get there. The release of oxytocin fosters the it-is-safe-to-approach perception. In other words, a well-crafted story that establishes an emotional connection will prime the audience to trust the speaker and respond to the call-to-action he or she presents.
A few words about creating tension in a story. Free yourself from giving all the details. Too much information will bury the drama. Plus, don’t be a slave to chronology. You want to intentionally build toward the reveal and strictly following the timeline might work against that. Try to describe the characters with the audience in mind. If there are natural points of connection, mention those.
Don’t force the emotions
Zander’s passion for classical music was not a put-on. His body language and intonation were in keeping with what he felt. Be careful if the talk you need to give is one that doesn’t move you personally. Excited arm waving in that context is likely to come off forced and phoney. A possible work-around is to look for supporting stories about which you do have an emotional connect. Use the stories instead of the topic to elicit an emotional response from the audience.
Some more of the story
How much emotion is too much in public speaking? via Public Words