How to use emotion to get people to act (when you present and for everything else…)

Frankie Kemp

4 October 2021

Elliot was as successful in business, as in life.  He was a role model to his children and a wonderful husband.

Despite the removal of a brain tumour leaving his cognitive faculties in excellent condition, his life started to fall apart.  Antonio Damasio, his neuroscientist, describes in his book Descartes’ Error, the surprising reason why Elliot’s world descended into chaos.

Since the operation, Elliot would spend hours trying to figure out how to categorise documents:  should he sort by date, alphabetically or by subject? The simplest of activities would take him hours of mental ping pong.

More catastrophically, his behaviour resulted in the loss of his job, collapse of his marriage and bankruptcy after he became involved in some shady money-making scheme.

Following the operation, fMRI scans revealed that Elliot’s intelligence and language were still intact.  However, when Elliot was shown highly emotionally charged pictures, he had no reaction to them.

It was his pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain that processes emotions that was damaged.

Other researchers have subsequently discovered that decision making is also impaired by any damage to the limbic system, the ancient cluster of brain cells that generates – again – emotion.

Many of us would think that decision making is an entirely logical process but if we look at Elliot, it is in fact, anything but that.

Making decisions is based on our ability to filter and make sense of our emotions.

Decisions are based on facts, such as data but actions are the result of feelings.

A 2016 study showed that 95% of our cognition happens in our emotional brain

So when you communicate with others, are you giving only the data – logical arguments – or are you adding emotion?

You may argue that there’s only a certain amount of emotion that you can give when discussing product variables.

So here are 8 ways in which emotion can help you sway your listeners without having them break down or crack up.

10 ways to add emotion to your presentations



1. Humour his is actually often a by-product of a shared, recognisable and truthful experience, lowering defences and making the speaker more relatable.  JK Rowling’s Harvard Commencement Speech is a perfect example:

Here’s how you can use humour when your content is as dry as a bone.


2. Showing empathy

Got bad news? Going in with Rose-tinted goggles on, pretending everything is hunky dory when it obviously isn’t, will brew up audience cynicism.

On the other hand showing you understand specific challenges or frustrations your audience has, will speak volumes about your leadership.  Go here to find out how to do this with a personal story, making you more relatable in the telling.


3. Shocking or thought provoking statements

Make your audience sit up and listen with a startling fact or shocking statistic, such as at the beginning of Esther Wang’s talk right here.


4. Connecting data to their reality

Make links between the data and the audience’s personal lives – or even their day to day professional ones. Such connections may have you asking your listeners to imagine a scenario in which they may find themselves, or pose questions that link the data with their vested interests, a more obvious example being Robert Waldinger’s TED talk on ‘What makes a good life’. 


5. Stories

How boredom can lead to your most brilliant ideas. Listen to how Manoush Zomorodi talks about the personal experience before the science. Note also the Tweet she projects at 8.06, that raises a laugh from the audience (see humour, above).

This link will lead you to a downloadable template to help you tell your own story .


6. Analogies

I was training a Senior Executive at 3M who was presenting the scintillating subject of….packaging to Marketing Directors from various agencies. She make parallels between the chocolate Toblerone with it’s prism box and branding. Analogies take dry or intangible concepts more concrete.

Another Senior Manager was constantly being required to rectify aspects of strategy when the strategy itself was based on mistaken premises. Whatever he did would never correct the course because the strategy was wrong. He finally declared to the COO, who was in the middle of a large personal renovation project, “This is like building a house on sinking sand and asking me to retile the roof. It’s not going to make the house any safer.”   The message got through after that and the plans were redrawn.


7. Pictures

Pictures incite emotion immediately. Think about how you’ll steer your audience’s emotions about the effects of the pandemic with each of these visuals. Depending on where you use them, these illustrations will prime the attitude of your listeners.  Here’s how to use visuals effectively.


8. Your body language and voice

Speak in a dry, flat voice and no-one will be convinced by your belief, whatever you’re saying. See this study by Stephen Ceci that demonstates how delivery conveys conviction. 


9. Use people’s names

We have an almost physical response to hearing our own names.  This is especially powerful in virtual calls as it grabs and keeps the attention of everyone, beyond the person whose name you’ve mentioned.  They know they could be next.  Here’s how you need to be using people’s names, in presentations and meetings.  If you’d rather see me talk about that it instead, then watch the five minute video here:


10. Refer to the experience of others

You’ll probably need to check with them if that’s OK.  If you mention that Gavin, who’s in front of you, lost a client when he forgot to process their order, he may not be all that happy with you.  Referring to the experience of others – with their consent – draws an invisible link between your listeners and you, adding relevance and personal connection to your content.


Your Action Step:

1. Pinpoint the next time you’re presenting to someone or a group.

2. Pick ONE technique you’ll use during that interaction.

3. Use it.


Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay


Are you you’re relying too much on data and logic when presenting?
Do you need to boost your influence – without feeling like you’re working others or blowing your own trumpet?
Whether it’s your teams that need some guidance, one of your managers or it’s you that needs a helping hand, I can help.  Here are just some of the ways I work with individuals and teams.

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