Being 'emotional' doesn't necessarily mean bursting into tears or throwing a complete wobbler. Investing your message with an ‘emotional intention’ gives it the hallmark of a good presentation – by colouring it with subtlety and variety.
Feelings may not be something you consider much when you plan to present – or go about any other aspect of your business. So when you get up and address an audience, you may never have asked yourself what you want them to feel. If that’s true, you’re missing a trick. Your ‘emotional intention’ is what gives your presentation much of its power.
“But my stuff’s very technical; my audience only needs information,” you may think.
You wouldn’t be alone: many business presentations consist of nothing but fact after fact after fact, all interminably listed in bullet-pointed, badly-designed slides (I could rant for England about the misuse of PowerPoint – in fact, I have done, in a little e-book called How to Fulfil Tight and Demanding Briefs – 101 Ways of Making Ballsups in Business). I’ve sat through dozens of presentations from all kinds of businesspeople in all kinds of business. And it’s the unwavering reliance on fact alone that I believe makes most presentations so incredibly dull.
Think for a moment about why you give a presentation at all. If it’s just to convey facts, is a live presentation, delivered by a human being, actually the best medium for the message?
What is the ‘present’ that you yourself can add to a ‘present-ation’ – if not something that’s uniquely human, and uniquely you?
What makes the difference is not the fact itself – it’s the feeling you bring to that fact. That’s because the emotional connection you have with your material is what ignites our emotions, and it’s emotions that trigger actions and ideas every bit as much as reason (often more so).
Why give a presentation at all if you don’t want people to go away and behave differently as a result of hearing your message?
Or, to coin a cliché, isn’t it all about trying to make your audience ‘buy in’ to what you have to say? If that weren’t so, there would be no advertising industry. It isn’t just the fact that this car does 0-60 mph in 0.001 seconds – it’s how you’d feel about owning that kind of car. The feeling is what makes you want to buy it.
So next time you’re preparing a presentation, ask yourself: "What is my emotional intention?" Or to put it another way: “What do I want them to feel?”
Answer it with a verb that describes an emotion:
“I want to motivate them;
“I want to shock them;
“I want to reassure them…”
(“I want to inform them” or “I want to update them” doesn’t count.)
In fact, apply that question not just to the whole presentation, but to every paragraph.
Otherwise you’re in danger of hitting one note all the way through – and good presentations, like good plays, need to engage our emotions in different ways at different moments. So decide on your ‘overarching’ emotional intention (“I want to motivate them”, for example), then break that down into a series of moment-by-moment intentions:
“In this moment, I want to amuse them…”
“With this statistic, I want to surprise them…”
“Through this anecdote, I want to entice them…”
Actors often work that way to make sure the dialogue they speak is actually having the appropriate impact on another character. That’s what makes the story clear for the audience – and it’s called ‘actioning’. It means finding a transitive verb to describe each individual ‘beat’, or moment.
So if you want to get your audience to take action on the basis of what you tell them, take a leaf out of the actor’s book. Emotions are a hugely powerful tool when you know how to use them.
Because if you don’t feel anything about what you’re saying, why should we?