Make your talk engaging – 5 tips to add emotional elements [PACE principles: part 4]

Short of time? Skip to the tips

5 boiled eggs with different facial expression drawn on themWhen you present at work (or at a conference or other speaking event), do you aim to make people feel some­thing specific?

If you do, you’ll have a far higher chance of engaging people, and therefore of achieving your talk’s goal. But if you don’t, your talk’s likely to be quickly forgotten – in less time than it took you to present!

Not convinced? Well, many speaking professionals suggest using emotional elements. For instance, in his book The Naked Presenter, Garr Reynolds writes:

“Content alone is never sufficient.
We need an emotional connection…”
Garr Reynolds

And former president of the National Speakers’ Association, Patricia Fripp says:

“Logic makes us think;
emotion makes us act”
Patricia Fripp

As I’ve said before, you should give every talk a call to action. And given Patricia’s quote, that implies you’ll need to share some emotional content too.

You might wonder how, though – especially at work. So in this post, you’ll find 5 tips for adding emotional elements, making your talks much more engaging and persuasive.

To make your job easier, I’ve sorted the tips from most to least “businesslike”:

  1. Share a striking stat
  2. Direct a “mind movie”
  3. Show a stirring photo
  4. Tell stories
  5. Be vulnerable


1. Share a striking statScroll to contents ↑

Lightning strike against a black night sky

You mightn’t think of a statistic as being an obvious choice to add emotion to your talk. But there are 3 secrets to making a statistic emotive:

  • Make it truly striking – choose a stat that’ll surprise most of your audience. (Before you say the number during your talk, you can judge how many people know it – and emphasise how surprising it is – by asking people to guess the number.)
  • Make it stand out – present the number boldly, like by saying the stat twice. And if you show it on screen, have very little else on the slide (if anything at all).
  • Make its meaning clear – write a short, powerful headline to answer people who might ask “So what?” about the stat, and use that as the slide title. For instance, you might write:

    “Use of Zoom increased enormously during the pandemic”


2. Direct a “mind movie”Scroll to contents ↑

Two people embracing with Golden Gate bridge behind

This is a powerful technique, and it’s especially useful if your topic centres on communication or relationships (like if you’re speaking about, say, leadership or customer service).

It involves asking people to picture a scene, and comes in 2 forms:

  • Looking backwards
  • Looking forwards

In the 1st form, you get your audience to recall a scene from their past in their minds.

For instance, if you’re talking about how 2 people can react very differently to stress, you might say:

“Have you ever lost your job or been made redundant?
Think back: How did you feel when you heard the news?”

The 2nd form is similar, but involves asking people to picture a future scenario (which might or mightn’t actually happen). For instance, you might say:

“What would happen if you lost your job tomorrow?
Think about hearing that from your boss.
How would you feel?”

Either form of this technique (looking backwards or forwards) works because our minds can’t easily tell the difference between thinking about an emotional experience and actually experiencing it. So it can bring up a strong response.


3. Show a stirring photoScroll to contents ↑

Close-up of a handsome man’s face

You might ask why photos touch our emotions. I’d say it’s because they communicate without words, so they bypass our language processing and reach us at a gut level.

And what makes a stirring photo? To me, 2 factors come to mind – either a shot that’s:

At work, naturally enough the 2nd of those 2 types of photos tends to be accepted more.

I’m sure people are more open to seeing photos in a keynote speech than in a work­place presentation. Still, even if you’re speaking at work, couldn’t you show a photo like one of the simple shots below?

If you do, you’ll introduce a very welcome break from all the text and charts found in most business presentations. And your audience will love you for it – which means they’ll listen more closely too!

Close-up of smiling young woman, with caption saying "customer satisfaction"

Close-up of flower, with caption saying "customers want simple products"

To boost its impact, make the photo as big as you can – full-screen if possible. (Like when you watch a film on a big-screen TV versus watching it on your phone, a bigger image has more impact.)

And please don’t put your company logo on the slide – that’d sap the photo’s power.


4. Tell storiesScroll to contents ↑

Man holding a flaming torch, paused in a castle gateway at night

When you give a presentation at work, you might think telling stories would be out of place (especially personal stories). But remember, stories can be of all sorts, and can easily be based on your work.

For instance, you could tell people about:

  • Some inspiring teamwork
  • Overcoming fierce competition to win a sale
  • A customer’s delight when your product solved an issue they had

If you include relevant stories, your talk will be much more powerful and persuasive. So don’t miss out!


5. Be vulnerableScroll to contents ↑

Baby bird stepping out of broken egg shell

What do I mean by being vulnerable? I mean sharing something that shows your human side – like that you’ve made mistakes or suffered setbacks, or even that you’ve had personal struggles (maybe staying fit, or making peace with your in-laws).

For instance, check out this personal struggle that speaking coach Lisa Braithwaite shares so well with her audience (in under 60 seconds):

Being vulnerable can be one of the best ways to connect with your audience. And that’s especially true if you’re speaking to your team. After all, people want to follow authentic leaders.

You mightn’t think it’s appropriate to be vulnerable in a talk at work. But I hope the examples below help to change your mind.

You could talk about:

  • A mistake you’ve learnt from
  • Hard times you’ve come through
  • A serious challenge you or your team are facing
  • Failing at something (e.g. a driving test or college exam) that led to insight or a new direction


Over to youScroll to contents ↑

At the start of this post, I said many speaking professionals advise you to use emotion. Here’s another example of that – speaker-coach Nick Morgan puts it this way:

“If we don’t touch the emotions of our audience,
we don’t touch them at all”
Nick Morgan

So in your next talk, I urge you to try one of the 5 tips you read about above for adding emotion:

  1. Share a striking stat
  2. Direct a “mind movie”
  3. Show a stirring photo
  4. Tell stories
  5. Be vulnerable

Let me know how it goes!

What emotive techniques have you used – or seen other speakers use? By all means share your thoughts in the comments.


Also check outScroll to contents ↑


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