I’ve addressed the importance of emotion when speaking quite a bit, and there’s a reason: It is essential to connecting, influencing, and motivating your audience. So many of the decisions we make each day are based on emotion and how we feel about something. Reflect on the last time you shopped for a car or house. There were likely vehicles or homes that checked “all the boxes” but you just didn’t feel it. Likewise, there may have been cars or homes that weren’t logically the best choice that spoke to you emotionally, that made you feel a certain way, and therefore became contenders in the final decision.
The power of emotion is real and will always be a factor. To appreciate the science behind emotional appeal, consider the research of Antonio Damasio, a professor at the University of Southern California. His body of work on the neurobiology of mind and behavior centers on emotion, decision-making, memory, communication, and creativity. In his book Descartes Error, he argues that emotion plays a central role in social cognition. When confronted with a decision, emotions from previous related experiences affix values to the options we are considering. These emotions create preferences, which lead to our decisions.
George Campbell, a Scottish philosopher, said it best in his 1776 book Philosophy of Rhetoric: “When persuasion is the end, passion also must be engaged.” How, then, do you generate emotional appeal in a world that demands metrics and empirical evidence? Here are three key principles to keep in mind when you prepare to stand and deliver:
- Use emotional language. “Great moments are born from great opportunity.”
- Develop vivid examples. “Tonight, we are the greatest hockey team in the world.”
- Speak with sincerity and conviction. “This is your time. Their time is done. It’s over!”
When using emotional appeal to provoke an action, ask yourself what you are trying to evoke:
Whatever it is, consider your message and the response you want to elicit from your audience. Your words and manner should reflect the feelings you are trying to activate inside an audience’s hearts and minds. When moving listeners to your cause, don’t substitute emotional appeal completely for evidence and/or reasoning. Build your persuasive arguments around some degree of logic, but also seek to achieve the impossible by weaving emotion into that same appeal.
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