11 May 2012


From Hijacking Emotion is the Key to Engaging Your Audience ~ "The default to emotion is part of the human condition.  To better appreciate the role of emotion and what it allows an audience to do, we need to take a brief detour into evolutionary biology.  The human brain can be understood as three separate brains working in tandem, if not completely integrated with each other.

"The primitive brain and the limbic brain collectively make up the limbic system, which governs emotion.  Within the limbic system, there is a structure called the amygdala, which leaders need to understand.  When faced with a stimulus, the amygdala (red structure in above image, click to enlarge) turns our emotions on.  It does so instantaneously, without our having to think about it.

" .... The amygdala is the key to understanding an audience's emotional response, and to connecting with an audience.  It plays an important role in salience, what grabs and keeps our attention .... Only when we have an audience's attention can we then move them to rational argument.

" .... Here are five ways to engage [an audience] effectively:

  • Establish connection before saying anything substantive.  .... The key is to make sure the audience isn't doing anything else so that they pay attention.
  • Say the most important thing first once you have their attention.  The most important thing should be a powerful framing statement that will control the meaning of all that follows.
  • Close with a recapitulation of the powerful framing statement that opened the presentation.
  • Make it easy to remember.  Keep in mind how hard it is for people to listen, hear, and remember.  One way is to repeat key points..
  • Follow the rule of threes.  Have three main points.  But no more than three main points, no more than three topics, no more than three examples per topic.
"The default to emotion is part of the human condition.  The amygdala governs the fight-or-flight impulse, the triggering of powerful emotions, and the release of chemicals that put humans in a heightened state of arousal.  Humans are not thinking machines.  We're feeling machines who also think.  We feel first, and then we think.  As a result, leaders need to meet emotion with emotion before they can move audiences with reason."

It strikes me that while the above remarks are intended for speakers in a business setting, they are equally valid for politicians addressing a constituency, for writers creating the opening chapter in their novel or work of non-fiction, or for anyone who hopes to engage the interest and support of a group of people.  When I was teaching, I instinctively followed most of the writer's ideas.  Restless, bored, or irritated teenagers need a focus ~ as do restless, bored, or irritated adults.  

I'm not sure I quite buy into the pat 'emotion-first, intellect-second' assumption.  Much depends on the setting, and on group expectations.  If one has signed up for a presentation at a professional conference, one's interest is already engaged.  The connection is already established.  But if I were moderating a discussion on a controversial topic, or stating my views favoring one side of that topic, then these guidelines would be useful.  

1 comment:

  1. from observation it appears that almost every political appeal begins with a promise to control the future. Usually (in retrospect) these projections are often misrepresented memories in the brain.