Facts tell… emotions sell

So what’s the story – happy or sad?

Take a look at the photo, what do you see?

A letter, a lady and a light, but I bet you’re not satisfied with just the facts. You want to know the story behind those facts….. Who’s the lady? What’s in the letter? Is it a love letter? And most importantly is the ending to this story happy or sad?

Don’t know what you decided but for me that flickering candle can only mean one thing… sad, sad, sad.

We’re all the same, you, me, Mr Spock, we see the world through a mist of facts but we make sense of it with our emotions.

Writers and Playwrights use emotions…

"If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?"
Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

Songwriters use emotions…

"And when no hope was left in sight. On that starry, starry night. You took your life, as lovers often do. But I could have told you, Vincent. This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you."
Vincent by Don McLean

Film makers use emotions…

"I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain… Time to die"
The replicant Batty from the film Blade Runner

And as a Public Speaker… you should definitely use emotions.

Why use emotions in your Speeches and Presentations?

image indicating the emotion of sadness

It can be scary to stand in front of an audience and show your emotions, you’re letting them see the real you. Much easier to deliver your speech from behind a protective cloak of formality and facts. Here are a few reasons you should throw that cloak away, take a few risks and lift your Public Speaking to the next level.

  1. Emotions let the audience know that you are human – the audience don’t want to listen to a fact spitting machine, they want to connect with a living breathing human being. Make that connection by showing your emotions and letting them know you are just like them. You get angry, you get sad, you know how to have fun and you know when to show compassion.
  2. Emotions help us to remember – we remember things that have emotional connections, for instance… what scene do you remember most from Walt Disney’s Bambi? I bet it’s the scene where Bambi’s mum senses the hunters and shouts "Run Bambi Run". We see Bambi running and then we hear a shot…..
    Why do most of us remember that scene? Because that scene smashes into our hearts like an emotional juggernaut and we bear the scars forever. If you want the audience to remember your speech, your main points, your call to action, give them a few emotional hooks to remember.
  3. Emotions make us take actionPhan Thị Kim Phúc is the child in the Pulitzer Prize winning photograph taken during the Vietnam War. The iconic photo shows her at about age nine running naked on a road after being burned on her back by a napalm attack. Once the public had seen that photograph the politics were swept aside by emotion… the war had to end.

    "Change happens in the boiler room of our emotions – so find out how to light their fires."
    Jeff Dewar

No need to become Mr Angry overnight, build up your emotional arsenal piece by piece.
Start by injecting a little enthusiasm and passion into your speeches and presentations. Then add a sprinkling of fun, enjoyment and happiness. And when you have the right subject and feel comfortable… bring in the emotions that have the biggest impact but most of us are reluctant to use, anger and sadness.

"A speech is not about facts and numbers; it’s about story, meaning. A memorable speech rests on the quality of the connection between the speaker and the audience."
Tony Carlson from his book The How of Wow

How to show emotions

image of two girls showing various emotions

As a Public Speaker you have a great advantage when it comes to using emotion. You can use emotive words but more importantly, you can use your voice and your body.

"Learning takes place when you kick them into a higher attention level. Touch their hearts, their minds will follow."
Lilly Walters

So lets say that you want to show the audience how enthusiastic you are about something… what do you do? Just think what you do normally when you’re enthusiastic. I speak louder, speak quicker, become animated, my face lights up and I smile. You may do that or you may do something different.

Once you know what you do normally, do the same in front of the audience, but exaggerate everything. How much you exaggerate depends on the size of the audience. If you’re talking to three people, there’s no need to exaggerate at all. If you’re talking to thirty people, you exaggerate slightly. If you’re talking to three hundred people… you can really let it go. And if you’re talking to three thousand people… could you please send me the name of your agent.

Here is a check list to run through when you’re trying to convey a particular emotion.

  1. Use the right words – no need to use big words, but at moments of high emotion you can use a little rhetoric to add impact. In the opening line of his eulogy to his sister Diane Princess of Wales, Lord Spencer uses a list of three to emphasise his simple words.

    “I stand before you today the representative of a family in grief, in a country in mourning before a world in shock.”
    Lord Spencer at the funeral of his sister Diana Princess of Wales

  2. Use the right voice – your voice is the most important element in conveying emotion. You can change volume, pace, pitch, intonation and you can….. pause, to convey emotion.
  3. Body gestures – make sure your body is in sync with your voice. If you are talking quickly to show enthusiasm, make sure you are animated. If you pause to show sadness, make sure you stand still.
  4. Facial gestures – take a look at the two girls in the photo at the start of this section. Great facial gesture done without thinking. What facial gestures can you use to convey your emotion? Even if the audience can’t see your face, making the gesture will have an effect on your voice, which the audience will hear.

Best way to use emotions

photo of girl crying - indicating the emotion of despair

Here are a few tips on how to get the most out of using emotions.

  1. Use emotions in short bursts – if you use an emotion for too long, it loses its impact. The solution is to use emotions in short bursts with normal bits in between. Light and shade, ebb and flow.
  2. Go easy on the negative emotions – emotions such as anger and sadness can have the greatest effect on an audience but too much can make them feel uneasy. Use the negative emotions sparingly.
  3. Mix up those emotions – to get the maximum impact from an emotion, contrast it against an opposing emotion. For example, if you have a sad section in your speech make the preceding section light hearted and humourous. Then slowly lead the audience into the sad section. Make em laugh, make em cry.

    "Humour is only a fragrance, a decoration… everything human is pathetic. The secret source of humour itself is not joy but sorrow."
    Mark Twain

  4. Finish on a positive – don’t forget… if you’ve taken the audience to a dark place, don’t leave them there. Bring them back by offering them a solution, giving them hope, showing them that they can change things for the better. Make sure they leave feeling better than when they arrived.

    "Audiences want speakers to end speeches on a high note – to give them a fleeting look at the land of promise. Who wants to listen to the preachers of doom and gloom?"
    Thomas Montalbo from his book The Power of Eloquence

  5. Don’t try and fake it – only use emotions that you genuinely feel. Exaggerate those emotions but don’t try and fake it. You’re a Public Speaker not a con man.

How do you use Emotions?

If you’re a Public Speaker, someone who gives Presentations, a writer or a blogger, how do you use emotions? Do you concentrate on happiness, do you concentrate on sadness, do you use a mixture? Are there emotions you avoid. Let me have your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

My thanks and gratitude to:

Simon Howden for Victorian Love Letter photo on free digital photos
John Steven Fernandez for The Eye photo on flickr
Ali Brohi for Two Girls photo on flickr
Elena Lagaria for Girl with Tear photo on flickr

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  1. First of all, I love the title of the post! You are absolutely right! I have learned as a singer, it is not all about hitting the notes…it’s about the emotion that you put into the song as well. That’s what ultimately sells it! This post is so on target for musicians as well!
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  2. Speaking as a trained engineer (yes, engineers do sometimes speak to other people), that is very useful. Even non-engineers are told, in the corporate world today, to “speak to the facts”.

    I know that I have a strong tendency to “persuade” with data and analysis. Trouble is, not everyone agrees with my irrefutable facts. Frustrating for them, frustrating for me.

    I got some very good tips from this post – thanks very much for that.
    Hamish´s last great post ..Kindle Touch vs Nook TouchMy Profile

    • Hey Hamish thanks for coming over and leaving a great comment.

      “I know that I have a strong tendency to “persuade” with data and analysis.”

      We are rarely motivated by the facts, emotion is what makes us take action.

      You’ve got to tie your facts to some emotion.

      Let me know what you talk on and I’ll see if I can come up with a few ideas.

      Appreciate you stopping by.


  3. Very interesting read. It was a good reminder, I must admit. Just like in writing, the more appeal to the emotions to your audience, the more moved they’re gonna be. Trying to make the audience visualize something they can emotionally relate to or understand at an emotional level, really gets them hooked on what we’re saying.

    But yeah, when it comes to speaking, it’s wayyy more effective than writing (speaking of emotionally appealing the audience) – the words we speak carry a sort of weight. It’s tough for beginners, obviously, but I believe it’s a very learnable skill.

    Anyway, great tips! I’ll keep coming back to this blog post to ensure I don’t forget it. 🙂
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  4. I’m really feelin’ this post, Keith!

    You’ve delivered up an array of ways and means to get others to “buy” your story. Emotions most assuredly “sell”.

    And here’s what I see every time I soak in one of your meaty posts:
    ” … a fleeting look at the land of promise.” 🙂

    Your engine is never idling … it’s always revved up to full speed and potential.
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