No doubt you’ve heard the old saying that you can’t let emotions get in the way of business. The advice comes in all sorts of forms: “Lead with the head, not with the heart,” “It’s not personal; it’s business,” and countless other pithy sayings. The advice is great when you’re sitting at the negotiating table, but when you’re giving a presentation you need to toss it out the window.
“Emotions are crucial to the decision-making process,” explain Richard Maxwell and Robert Dickman, veteran communication experts and co-authors of
The Elements of Persuasion: Use Storytelling to Pitch Better, Sell Faster & Win More Business. Emotions, they say, move us in ways no data could ever do, and we are more likely to remember information when it is associated with a particular emotion and image.
Here’s why: Research shows that audiences remember presentations with both sides of the brain. The actual words you speak, say Maxwell and Dickman, are sent to the left temporal lobe, while the “melody” of those words – the sound, intonation, rhythm, and so on – is sent to the right side. It is in that right side, in the region associated with music and visual images, that we derive meaning from the words. “The sound of your voice and the look on your face convey your emotions much more powerfully than the content of your words,” explain the authors.
To take a very simplistic example, think about a teenager saying, “Yeah, right.” The words themselves will register in your left-brain, but it’s the dripping sarcasm, which registers in your right brain, that gives meaning to those words and enables us to recall those words in the long run.
What all this means for your sales presentation is that you not only have the green light to allow your emotions to show through, you’ll be a more effective presenter when you do. If you’ve got some startling statistics to share with your audience, don’t just give them the numbers, allow your surprise and sense of disbelief to be conveyed. Be wowed along with them, and then pause to let the numbers sink in for all of you. If you’ve got a funny story to tell about a time you screwed up, let your audience feel your sense of trepidation and dread as you waited to meet with your irate customer. They’ll long remember the story and your message when they vicariously experience the same emotional journey you took.
One note of caution, say the authors: don’t try to manufacture emotion for your presentation. Audiences will know instantly when you’re faking it. Instead, relax and give yourself permission to convey your emotions through your facial expressions, tone of voice, and gestures. In presentations, it’s perfectly okay to lead with the heart.