A depiction of Jonathan Haidt’s elephant and rider example, “The Happiness Hypothesis” (screenshot from video “Mr. Rogers and the Power of Persuasion”).

I’ll start this newsletter with a little secret:

Anyone who tells you there’s a difference between persuading an individual or an audience of 1000 people is talking bullshit.

Whether you’re pitching your new project in a board meeting, convincing your partner about an issue, advocating for a world changing idea or giving a talk in front of thousands of people you only need one thing in order to persuade your audience.

You need to target your audience’s emotions.

No matter if in an argument or a talk you're using all the charts, pies, facts and figures, if it lacks the emotional connection with your audience, it will not work.

Jonathan Haidt in his book “The Happiness Hypothesis” illustrates this idea by comparing the emotional part of our brain to an elephant and the logical part to a rider. If the elephant doesn't want to go somewhere, if the emotions aren’t there, the rider won't be able to be convinced. In order to get a rider to consider your argument, you have to convince the elephant first.

I’ve seen this dozens of times with my speakers and it’s a question that comes up in almost all of my public speaking workshops.

Now you might ask: “how do I this if I am presenting the quarterly report to my company’s board of trustees?” or “what about the repetitive end of the year presentation to the whole organization, where only numbers change?What kind of emotions do I target there?”

There’s always a way.

When I say “target emotions”, I don’t mean make your audience cry or laugh. In a quarterly report, you can focus on your company’s “why”. What is the “why” behind your company’s mission, and align your report to that. Bring forward the power of the team behind the numbers. Or, in an end of the year presentation, where you will likely have old and new co-workers, target everyone’s emotions by acknowledging them “some of you may have heard this issues over and over again, but for some of you these are new — so the ones who’ve heard these objectives before, please bear with me”.

Do you get my point?

Here’s another little scenario: you’re pitching an idea to future investors. Your idea is about something that you know will raise concerns. Acknowledge that.

Let’s pretend you’re in the business of 3D printing and people have concerns around 3D printing and the gun industry. You have to talk to their emotions. Say “I know that some of you might hear 3D printing and think of guns. But how about we shift that mindset and think of 3D printing in relation to prosthetics for humans?'“ This lets you bring those who might otherwise be opposed to your presentation on your journey.

By acknowledging their concerns before they’re raised, you are making sure to keep their hearts and brains in the conference room and not outside it.

Here’s another way to think about it. You might have heard or read about Aristotle’s three modes of persuasion in rhetorics: “pathos” (appeal to emotions), “logos” (appeal to logic) and “ethos”(appeal to credibility and ethics). Well, no matter of all the logos and ethos in the world, if you’re lacking of pathos, that angel investor will not pick your idea to fund. At the end of the day she is investing in you; in your passion, your enthusiasm, your commitment and your team. Yes, she will invest in your numbers too, your traction in the market and vision. But if you don’t stand out with your passion, why shouldn’t she invest in the other promising projects that are pitched to her?

Persuading an audience about something you’re passionate about can be easier than preparing a corporate presentation. However, we use exactly the same tools in TED talks, where you have to persuade a multicultural audience, often with different ethical concerns. This is where the power of storytelling as a tool of targeting emotions comes in.

Personal stories are a tool that you can use when you’re pitching your idea to investors too. How did you come up with your idea and why? Who is your hero or source of inspiration? And if you’re the CEO of a company and wish to inspire your employees, as a leader should do, talk about moments in your career that can inspire your audience, talk about failures and highlight the importance of the lessons learned.

Now, effective storytelling is something I can go on an on about, but I’ll keep that for another newsletter.

Talking to emotions and showing empathy is the key to convince your toddler too. Trust me, I know. And trust me, it works. In moments where logical arguments don’t work, because logic is not present, acknowledge the way the toddler or teen feels. Talk to the elephant first and be patient. Then bring forward the logical arguments. It's not an easy task, but it’s the only way that effectively works even during a full on emotional temper tantrum.

Now I challenge you: go and review any online talk you loved. See why you loved it. And see if you can pinpoint the times that this speaker talks to your emotions.

Go and watch any talk online by Barack Obama. Yes, same thing. He targets emotions first, not only in the opening of his talks, but also through the use of personal stories, acknowledging emotions and resonating each time with his audience. I loved reading “The World As It Is: Inside the Obama White House” by Ben Rhodes.

It’s up to you to know your audience and your topic, and then choose the right way to move forward in their persuasion. And I will end with one of my favorite quotes by Maya Angelou “… people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Until next time ;-)



Cheers! Katerina