You’re going to love this article.
You’re about to learn a fabulous way to get audiences on your side every time you speak. You’ll discover a way to connect with the motives of your listeners for powerful speaking. You’ll be able to “speak from the heart” and touch the feelings of every person listening to your speeches, presentations, talks and lectures. (To be a more engaging speaker and reach audiences emotionally, download my free cheat sheet, "5 Ways to Captivate an Audience.")
So let me ask you: Do you want to motivate, inspire, and move audiences when you speak? Pie charts, spreadsheets, and crunched numbers won’t do it; neither will a slide deck festooned with every bell and whistle you can find. To persuade your listeners and change their lives, you must learn how to use emotion. And you also have to know how to ask the right questions to truly motivate audiences.
Emotion is the most potent speaking tool you own, for it touches the deepest and most profound areas of the human condition. This is true not just psychologically but biologically as well—and evolution has made it so.
The Limbic System in the Human Brain
The human brain in a sense is not a single brain at all but a highly differentiated system, with areas dedicated to perception, thought, sensory input, autonomic body functions, and emotional response. The limbic system, for instance, governs emotional life, behavior, and motivation. And a particular part of the limbic system, the amygdala controls memory and attention.
This clearly is important for you to know if you speak in public. It means that for your audience to pay attention, you must involve them emotionally. Do this, and it’s a much easier path to persuade them with a rational argument. Leave your audiences cold emotionally, however, and they’ll pay less attention than they should no matter how rational your approach.
Use a Grabber that Packs Emotional Punch
How can you start a presentation with this kind of emotional punch? Use a grabber. That’s what I call an opening that immediately “grabs” an audience’s attention with a statement, metaphor, visual image, statistic, or other tool that uses emotion to get listeners on the wavelength of your topic. Need some ideas? Here are 12 foolproof ways to open a speech.
Go back to the first sentence above and you’ll see that I used a grabber at the beginning of this blog. “You’re going to love this article” is meant to get your attention through the use of emotion. Note also that the first four sentences begin with variations of the word “You.” Both the use of “love” in that opening sentence, and the strong focus on you the reader are designed to capture your attentiveness by activating your limbic system, just as I explained above.
An Exercise: Now it’s your turn. Try this exercise: Select a presentation that you’ve given previously—something fairly recent will probably work better than a talk you gave in the distant past. Think about how you started out this presentation, but set aside that opening. Instead, come up with a grabber that will pack some emotional punch and compel your audience’s attention. Common devices aside from those given above include a quotation, story, personal anecdote, humor (not a joke), report or study, industry “hot item,” expert testimony, today’s headline, or the magic word “Imagine . . .”
See if you think your new grabber would have captured your audience’s attention more quickly and powerfully than the opening you used previously. If you believe it would have, use this technique for your next presentation, to get your listeners’ limbic system working to your advantage.
Your Most Powerful Weapon
Using emotion when you speak is not only helpful in gaining your audience’s attention. It can also engender a positive response from your listeners toward you and what you represent, and dramatically aid retention of your message.
Holly Chen is a 5-feet-tall, 68-year-old grandmother who is something of a force of nature. Along with her husband, she is the single largest distributor in Amway Corp., overseeing approximately 300,000 salespeople.
She is also what Dennis K. Berman in his 2012 Wall Street Journal article calls “a kingpin of the emotions business.” For Ms. Chen, “the most powerful weapon is to move somebody emotionally. If you send out a signal as love, you will receive the same signal back.” She adds: “You have to know the inside of people, rather than the outside of people.”
Ms. Chen is extraordinarily successful because she understands the human condition. She is adept at turning her devotees’ desires and dreams into action, on behalf of themselves, Amway, and Ms. Chen herself. In other words, she knows her audience, and she uses emotion to reach them and move them. Another technique for involving audiences is to look for ways to add drama to your speeches and presentations to make them irresistable!
Focus on People not Information, and You’ll be Successful
One way you can succeed along those same lines yourself is to use emotional language. Speakers in professional settings sometimes consider emotional content to be inappropriate for general audiences. But to genuinely move your listeners, you must deal in emotional words as well as an overall emotional approach. For instance: “thrilled” trumps “pleased”; “fabulous new product” supersedes an “innovative” one; and announcing at your annual sales meeting that last year was a good one for the company can’t match starting out with: “These are exciting times. . .” Here's how to use emotional language if you're giving a persuasive speech.
I was reminded of the sheer power of connecting people and emotion in a day-long training I conducted recently. The group I was working with consisted of professionals and parents of autistic children. Both the educators and parents frequently work with teachers and service providers to offer suggestions and examples from their own lives of how to reach and help young people with autism.
One parent, the mother of an autistic child, had been quiet the entire day, but late in the afternoon she contributed to the discussion. She mentioned that she was a librarian, and one day when checking out a gentleman’s selections, she noticed a DVD on children and autism. Upon mentioning that she was familiar with the DVD, a conversation began between her and the patron. She discovered that the man was also the parent of an autistic child, and was experiencing considerable feelings of guilt because he hadn’t been able to help his son the way he wanted to. His opening up in this way allowed the woman to suggest avenues of help for the man. Her quiet recital of this story was profoundly moving—the more so because it came from what until then had been a quiet corner of the room!
Closing your talk by using emotion is another effective technique. I call it using a clincher, and I just employed it here by ending with this true story. Once again, it’s your turn.
 Dennis K. Berman, “Inside the Amway Sales Machine,” Wall Street Journal, 15 February 2012.
Key takeaways from this blog:
- To persuade audiences and change their lives, learn how to use emotion.
- Listeners need some emotional involvement simply to pay attention!
- Open with an emotional grabber, and you'll have listeners hanging on every word.
- Focus on people and motives rather than merely delivering information.
- The more stories and illustrations you use, the more engaging you'll be.