Chances are you’ve seen the commercials. More importantly, you probably remember them. We’re talking about St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or ASPCA.

In their TV spots both organizations are asking for your financial support. St. Jude does it by showing a number of children being treated for life-threatening illnesses. ASPCA shows you the sad faces of dogs and cats that have been abused or abandoned.

It’s an unfeeling person who’s not moved (and moved to action) by these images that tug at the heartstrings.

Emotion as a Persuasive Technique

Charitable organizations and consumer product companies alike are masters of persuasion. They know what works and what doesn’t work when trying to influence. And what works is an appeal to emotions. For people to act, they have to care.

Most people try to persuade with lots of facts. And facts are not unimportant. They ground the presenter – showing that there’s substance to what’s being said. But facts, data, evidence, documentation and the like are just one type of content – analytical. The other type of content is emotional – humor, stories, analogies, powerful images, etc. Emotional content gives your audience a reason to care.

So why do so many presentations lack emotional content? For one thing, Americans are practical folks – no-nonsense, get-the-job-done people who prefer to get right to the point. No need for embellishment or wasting time. The quote is still popular by Sergeant Joe Friday of the ‘50s show, Dragnet: “Just the facts, ma’am.”

Also, tradition and some company cultures discourage employees from straying from “the way we’ve always done it” – namely, loading their presentations and PowerPoint visuals with analytical content.

For another thing, most people have not been told or have never figured out that analytical content alone is not enough to create a successful presentation.

What does emotional content look like? Here are two of our favorite examples:

In a 2009 TED talk, Bill Gates wanted his audience to know that malaria is a serious disease. A million people die from it each year and 200 million people are suffering from it at any one time. Right after reminding people that the disease is transmitted by mosquitos, he used humor to underscore his point. He released a jar of mosquitos into the room saying, “There’s no reason only poor people should have the experience.” The audience loved it!

In 2015, President Obama broke into a rendition of “Amazing Grace” during his eulogy at the funeral of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the victims of the mass shooting at an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina. It brought the room to its feet.

Use Emotion When Presenting

We’re not advocating that you break out into song or release mosquitos at your next presentation. Or that you abandon facts entirely. Use them, but balance them with emotional content – whether in the opening, the body, or the conclusion of your presentation.

Want to learn more about using emotion when presenting, or about how to become a better presenter in general? Presentations training can help. At the Ammerman Experience, we help people effectively and confidently reach and influence others through the spoken word. Get in touch with us to find out more.