Emotion Precedes Reason

It’s Olympic season – which means we’ll no doubt see some amazing feats done by incredible individuals. Miracles happen every Olympics, and the 1980 Winter Olympics will go down in history as one of the greatest examples of this.

When the United States Olympic hockey team glided onto the ice to face the Soviets in Lake Placid, New York, on Feb. 22, 1980, Cold War tensions had reached a boiling point.

The winner would advance to the finals to play for the gold medal, but there was far more at stake in upstate New York in 1980 than mere Olympic glory. The game had come to take on a great deal of symbolic importance.

Before the match, things looked bleak for Team USA. They’d lost to the Soviets 10-3 in a previous exhibition. The Soviets were the most dominant team in the history of Olympic sports. With a win-loss record of 62 – 6, they arrived at Lake Placid having won four straight Olympic gold medals.

The Americans weren’t supposed to win.

Before the big game, Herb Brooks – the coach and previous two-time Olympian – walked into the locker room and came face-to-face with a team that looked as if it had conceded victory. Brooks had a keen sense of what we call situational awareness — an ability to take the pulse of his players by reading non-verbal cues. His players looked defeated.

He needed to get their attention, so he did what all great communicators do: He gave his team a call to action: Win this game. But he did it in a way that relied more on emotion than reason. He delivered the following speech:

“Great moments are born from great opportunity. And that’s what you have here tonight, boys. That’s what you’ve earned here tonight. One game.

If we played them 10 times, they might win nine. But not this game; not tonight. Tonight, we skate with them. Tonight we stay with them, and we shut them down because we can.

Tonight, we are the greatest hockey team in the world.

You were born to be hockey players—every one of you, and you were meant to be here tonight. This is your time. Their time is done. It’s over. I’m sick and tired of hearing about what a great hockey team the Soviets have. Screw ’em. This is your time. Now go out there and take it!”

That’s all he needed— 123 words delivered with passion and intensity. If Brooks had appealed to his team’s sense of logic, the game would have been over before it ever began.

Want to move an audience to your cause? Or change their minds about a given topic? Or convince them to get out of their seats and go buy something they swore they never would? Do as Herb Brooks did and appeal to your audience’s base emotions…because in the end, emotion precedes reason.

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