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  • Writer's picturekatrice horsley

Emotional Resonance - (letting your audience feel your message.)

Hi Everybody,

The image is from a pub I found whilst I was recently in Dublin, called The Storyteller. Needless to say I had to go in and down a pint of my cultural heritage in honour of my grandmother who was from Cork.

I was in Dublin for the Council for International Schools Global Forum as I was their keynote speaker and was also running a workshop for them. It was my largest live audience, 0ver 850 for the keynote and about 120 for the workshop and I relished the whole event.

The organisation of the event was faultless and the audience came from 72 countries, with 482 Universities represented and 311 school counsellors from International Schools around the globe. I had been a little anxious beforehand as essentially there were, (as I saw it,) two opposing sets of people; the university recruiters and the school counsellors. I felt they would have different objectives at the event and I started to think of the division between them - this was so wrong of me. I suddenly caught myself remembering what I often tell people, - we are all human, we all love, laugh, hope, fear, mourn, cry and this is where we connect. - I put away my meta-narration of division and thought of the group as a whole, as a whole example of what it is to be human.

Hence, the keynote, (and workshop) were a great success and a range of people came up to me afterwards and during the break times too, to share how it had affected them. Some were emotional, their eyes filled with tears yet they were joyful too, wanting to share how much my talk moved them, or 'witnessed' them or spoken to them. This would not have been possible if I had seen them as two groups rather than one; one wonderful group of humans, all involved in the work of helping students continue with their learning and this is how I started my talk - responding to them as a complete whole. Responding to them as people with the same goals and values. Responding to them as people who all care. In doing so I offered them a shared vision, a shared story.

I continued the talk by sharing a traditional story, just a short one yet one that carried a lot of emotional impact regarding vulnerability, being judged, carrying shame and yet still being able to create beauty. This story enabled the release of oxytocin, dopamine and cortisol - now the group were focused, together and feeling positive. This meant I could go on to share some of the science that supports the work of narrative. I also shared parts of my personal story, bringing me closer to them, showing how to be vulnerable yet not owned by the painful parts of my story, rather owning those painful parts and valuing them. As leaders our 'leadership' story is our personal one - it allows people to meet our authentic selves and therefore be more likely to trust us and listen to our message. It also shows people that they are allowed to be vulnerable too; to bring their authentic, weary, wonderful selves forward to be welcomed.

The keynote ended with me sharing a possible structure for them to use when creating their own stories of self and what they stand for. I leant conspiratorially forward on the stage to whisper to them that they could not share it with each other, as it might be recognisable now, considering there were 850 of us all there hearing it. This conspiratorial element to a talk really enables people to feel more intimate with you and your voice, even in a huge auditorium amongst hundreds of people. Of course you are talking to all of them but it can be experienced as though you are just talking to that one person and the truth is, you are.

Sharing these techniques with you may make it sound like I was somehow contrived or manipulative yet the complete opposite is in fact true - I was 100% authentic. What I brought to my talk was me, all of me. The passionate, the professional, the personal, the playful. My methods just make it smoother and easier for me to share something that makes sense and has a central narrative (or red thread) running through it to bring coherence. I have written before about the importance of the holy triptych of Personal/Professional/Passionate. If you think of these in terms of our brain; the professional is our neocortex which enables higher order thinking skills, the personal is our sensory cortex which is responsible for emotions and the passion is our amygdala, responsible for instinctive and motivational behaviours. We need to include all three in order to stimulate the brains of the people we are talking to. Often we are led to believe that in order to be 'professional' we must not show passion or 'care.' This is wrong. Let me use the metaphor of a boat on the sea: The rudder of the boat is our knowledge/professionalism and directs us to where we want our audience to 'land.' The boat itself is our care, holding our audience safe and secure enough to trust us and travel with us. The sea is our passion - pushing us forwards and enabling us to move - without that sea our boat is not going anywhere!

I truly believe that every person is a brilliant storyteller and uses all three elements and more! Each of us uses emotional language, each of us changes the pitch and tone of our voices, each of us alters the speed and pace of our speaking and we all support our 'stories with physical gestures. You only have to think of when you come back from a bad day at work and how you might share that with someone at home, or when you see a really cute dog/baby/cat/person and how you talk about them to someone....... we naturally use all those techniques in our everyday language. However, often the problem comes when we have to 'think' about giving a talk - we become totally locked in our head and that passion and 'care' are not allowed in - yet these are what cause our words and stories to flow and move - to move not just us but the people who listen to us.

So, if you want to create that emotional connection with your audience - be they work colleagues or clients or customers - connect with your emotions and passion to enable them to connect with theirs. You might ask why should you? Let me tell you: facts do not go deep enough to engender trust or understanding - stories do. If you want to find out more about how you can make your presentations more emotionally engaging please conatct me and perhaps next year I will offer a short course on just that!

Take Care


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