Want a captive audience, whether you're writing or speaking? Here's why emotions make you powerful with audiences.
If a robot told you, "I love you," would you care?
Silly question, right? A robot is all zeros and ones, plus assorted hardware. It doesn't have a beating human heart—and so far at least, the emotional synapses of the human brain. When it speaks, what you're hearing is data that has been manipulated in one way or another.
Doesn't sound too different from a lot of professional presentations, does it? Or let's face it, a fair amount of scifi novels, thrillers, mysteries, and techno- and military fiction. (And let's be fair, you could say the same about other genres, absenting romance, and literary fiction as well.) But it's been true forever, and it remains so for both speaking and writing: when your audience cares, then you've got 'em!
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If you're interested in going beyond the mechanistic, from action stories to impactful speeches, you need to make emotions speak for you. No matter how hard-headed a business strategy or how technical a novel's plot, the way to get audiences to "buy" is to speak to their hearts.
Let me share with you an example of all of this in action.
Welcome to The Emotional University!
Are you familiar with corporate universities? To quote Wikipedia: A corporate university is any educational entity that is a strategic tool to assist an organization in achieving its goals by conducting activities that foster individual and organizational learning and knowledge.1
I would add something to this definition, for it was part of a training project I completed recently. A corporate university may be designed to foster customer or constituent learning and knowledge, as well as that of the organization itself.
To say that more simply: the activities may be designed to build trust and shared values between a company and its clients or customers. To do that, an emotional connection needs to be high on the list of objectives. You can say exactly the same thing, of course, if you're discussing an author and her or his readers.
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Allowing Your Audiences to Peek Behind the Curtain
A manufacturing company that had such a goal in mind hired me to make this happen through its presentations. Each year, the company invites key customers to its facility, for a "peek behind the curtain" in terms of what goes into product manufacturing.
The customers rotate through "classes," each of which takes place in one area of the plant, and which features a lecture by technical experts from that department. The university—actually called by that name—had been going on for years, and is a popular event for the company's customers. (Also featured are a dinner and a sightseeing tour on the second day of the event.)
The classes had always gone off without a hitch. But management had decided something was missing. The aim of the two-day event wasn't only to give customers an in-close look at design, customization, and manufacturing. Equally important to the leadership was the emotional connection the event fostered: a way of strengthening the relationship between the company and its customers. They were explicit in describing how they wanted the employees' presentations and interaction with the visitors to help accomplish that goal.
Are You Achieving Emotional Impact?
So the company, through its new insight, now had the same goal you're most likely facing when you speak or write: to go beyond the technical and "touch" the human being who's listening to you or reading your book. Here's more on how to engage and motivate audiences.
To boil it all down: can you achieve emotional impact? It's no wonder, of course, that my manufacturing company's employees weren't adept at this aspect of presenting. They were subject experts, and they approached presentations in that vein: as a recital of the technical information the audience needed to know. To once again pair that with fiction: are so you comfortable with the whiz-bang stuff that you're not thinking and writing emotionally as well?
So, here are some questions to ask yourself: Do you consciously think about how you can establish rapport with audiences or readers? Are you working on the EQ elements of your talks, stories, and books (fiction and nonfiction)? Remember: people won't recall details or specifications, but they will always remember how you made them feel.
This article was originally published in 2017. It is updated here.
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Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in public speaking training and overcoming speaking fear. His company, Boston-based The Genard Method offers live 1:1 Zoom executive coaching and corporate group training worldwide. In 2022 for the ninth consecutive year, Gary has been ranked by Global Gurus as One of the World’s Top 30 Communication Professionals. He is the author of the Amazon Best-Seller How to Give a Speech. His second book, Fearless Speaking, was named in 2019 as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time." His handbook for presenting in videoconferences, Speaking Virtually offers strategies and tools for developing virtual presence in online meetings. His latest book is Speak for Leadership: An Executive Speech Coach's Secrets for Developing Leadership Presence. Contact Gary here.