Want listeners to be on your side and feel good about your speech? Here's how to use storytelling (and more) to turn on your audience's positive emotions.
Do you think the information you're about to deliver to an audience is going to thrill them?
It might. Chances are, though, the material you're going to talk about contains content they need to hear. And they'll appreciate that. Perhaps it will even excite them.
But you're the element that will thrill them and make your speech memorable.
Your real task with an audience is reaching their hearts and minds to influence them. Learn how! Download my Free Guide, "Great Speaking? It's About Performance Over Content."
If you're like too many speakers, you'll traffic in slides, charts, spreadsheets, and maybe the occasional personal experience. But that's all that content again. To really turn an audience on, you need to reach them emotionally. Below are three powerful ways to do so.
Storytelling Will Help You Reach Audiences' Hearts
You're probably not surprised to hear that storytelling is one sure way to win over an audience. It's a funny thing about stories, though. They're all about what happened—the things people did. But the reason they did those things was because of motives and desires. And those two things are all about emotions.
It's for exactly that reason that stories touch your listeners' hearts. We think and feel just like the folks in the stories do because we're human, too. There's even part of our neurological make-up known as mirror neurons. These groups of neurons in the brain fire up not only when a person performs an action—but also when others observe that person performing the action. And some scientists believe these mirror neurons work the same way in terms of empathy.
So that's your choice: Give listeners data points (those slides, graphs, and formulas), or weave the facts into a story that involves people just like them overcoming obstacles to win the day. If that doesn't move your audience into positive emotional territory, you just have to get better at telling the story.
Why Emotional Language Is Key to Effective Speaking
Another way to elicit an emotional response in an audience is to use emotional language.
Want to hear how powerful that can be? This week, when Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg finally appeared in a debate (after spending in excess of $400 million in ads), Sen. Elizabeth Warren came out of her corner swinging. Here's what she said as her first contribution of the night:
So I'd like to talk about who we're running against, a billionaire who calls women "fat broads" and "horse-faced lesbians." And, no, I'm not talking about Donald Trump. I'm talking about Mayor Bloomberg. Democrats are not going to win if we have a nominee who has a history of hiding his tax returns, of harassing women, and of supporting racist polls like redlining and stop and frisk. Look, I'll support whoever the Democratic nominee is. But understand this: Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another.
It's a statement dripping with unconcealed contempt, using language that feels like the opening of the door to a blast furnace.
Emotional language also works in the other direction, of course (even in politics). And that can work for you overtime in turning on positive emotions in listeners. Listen to Abraham Lincoln at his first inauguration, just a month before the horror of the American Civil War erupted:
I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
Lincoln took the suggestions for this famous closing from his designate for Secretary of State, William Seward. But by using "deft touches which reveal a literary taste beyond that of any statesman of his time, transformed [them into] the tender spirit and chaste beauty of these closing words."
Notice how the phrases Lincoln chose connote strong, uplifting emotions: "bonds of affection"; "mystic chords of memory"; "patriot"; "living heart and hearthstone"; "chorus of the Union"; and "better angles of our nature." Do you think about the words and phrases you can use in your own speeches and presentations, to make sure you achieve what Mark Twain called not the lightning bug, but lightning itself?
How Your Speaking Voice Helps Elicit Emotions
If you are telling stories and using evocative language, as I'm suggesting above, it will all fall short without the delivery tool meant to deliver emotions straight to everyone's heart: your voice. You possess no tool like it in your public speaking repertoire, for it is both the subtlest and most powerful instrument for eliciting emotions in others.
At your disposal is a suggestive whisper or thundering moral outrage; humor and surprise at how events turned out; or speaking slowly and from the heart to show how much you care for these people or this organization. The vocal palette is there for you to use, in all its colors. So why speak only in browns and grays? Discover my 5 Key Tools of Vocal Dynamics. Then use them all to get an audience emotionally on your side.
You should follow me on Twitter here.
Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in theater-based public speaking training. His company, Boston-based The Genard Method uses performance techniques to help business executives, leadership teams, and professionals embody presence and confidence to achieve true influence. In 2020 for the seventh consecutive year, Gary has been ranked by Global Gurus as one of The World's Top 30 Communication Professionals. He is the author of How to Give a Speech. His second book, Fearless Speaking, was recently named as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time."