This is an excerpt I came across a couple years ago from “Public Speaking: I get so emotional.”:
If you want to get real action out of your audience during a public speaking engagement, then tugging on their heart strings can help make it happen. This is where your storytelling ability can really make you shine.
You don’t have to tell stories when speaking to get emotional response. You can get another two-for-one happy hour special when you ask the right questions. Asking questions not only involves the audience mentally, it can also stimulate many kinds of emotion. Do you remember when you were a child and you could barely get to sleep Christmas Eve because you just knew Santa was going to bring you that special something? This question would stimulate fond feelings in most general public Christian audiences. It would not, however, connect so well with people who do not celebrate Christmas (remember: know your audience.)
How about this question: do you remember doing something really bad as a child? What kind of punishment did your parents give you? These questions would cause the audience to remember bad feelings.
Did you ever have a pet that died, or did you have a friend who had a pet that died? This would undoubtedly elicit sad feelings. If you want the audience to smile, ask them this: can you remember the most embarrassing moment of your life? Most people will laugh when thinking back to an embarrassment they felt was a tragedy at the time because one of the definitions of humor is tragedy separated by space and time. So, tell stories while speaking in public and ask the right questions to move the emotional state of your audience.
There are many emotions you can trigger in the audience just by your choice of words. Happiness, anger, sadness, nostalgia are just a few. Knowing your purpose for speaking to a group helps you to pick which emotions you want to tap. When your purpose is known, choosing words to get the desired emotional response is much easier.
Here’s an example of a simple set of facts that a speaker might convey:
“There have been eleven accidents in the past year at the sharp curve which is two miles north of Cherokee Lake on Route 857. Installation of guard rails, warning signs, and a flashing light will cost approximately $34,000. Even though we have not balanced the budget this year, I feel that we should appropriate money for this project. Thank you.”
Here is a little different version that uses emotional appeal to get the message across:
“On July 18th of this year John Cochran was found dead. The radio of his car was still playing when the paramedics got to his overturned vehicle. John’s neck was broken. It was snapped when his car flipped over an embankment. No one here knows John Cochran because he did not live here, but he died in our neighborhood. Most of you do know of the hairpin turn on Route 857 that has been the scene of eleven accidents this year alone and has injured many friends as well as strangers. We need money to put up guardrails, signs, and a flashing light. I know money is tight, but I hope you see fit to find the funds to remedy this situation before the unknown John Cochran becomes one of your loved ones.”
Can you see the difference in these two appeals? The first was simply a set of facts. Facts are important, but they rarely stimulate people to action. The action comes when emotions get attached to believable facts. You can bet the second version of the above story would have the best chance of securing that $34,000.
To create the emotional appeal in the second version of the story, words and phrases were chosen that had emotional power; John Cochran was found dead…The radio of his car was still playing … John’s neck was broken…It was snapped … His car flipped … hairpin turn … He died in our neighbourhood.
All these phrases were woven into the original set of facts to create the emotional response of horror about this terribly dangerous turn. So give your presentations an emotional lift. Use the language.