Monday, October 11, 2010

Maine and emotions

I’ve been reasonably quiet online for the last five weeks in part because I’ve been on vacation, one week at a Delaware beach and another on the Maine coast. On my return from Maine, I sat through a presentation almost entirely devoid of emotion, and it got me thinking about the deep feelings the Maine coast elicited in me and why it seems so hard for many to bring that kind of emotion into their presentations.

The emotionless presentation in question was given by a man who cares deeply about the topic he was presenting, but that passion didn’t come out. And for me – someone who is usually not the most emotionally sensitive guy – the contrast was huge between the strong feelings I had on the Maine coast and the lack of feelings I had listening to this presentation.

I work with lots of engineering types, and it seems like many have gotten this idea in their heads that passion and emotion don’t belong in their presentations – that only well-structured facts and logic are how one creates a speech. And it shows. Again and again I see too-long slide decks that seem to reflect too much thinking about evidence and logic, and not enough on emotion and story-telling.

I’m not suggesting technical people turn into touchy-feely therapists (think Stuart Smalley), or insert fake emotion into their presentations at the expense of facts and evidence, but some honest positive emotion can make a big difference in getting your message through (think Al Gore). And like any skill, it takes practice (especially for those of us who see ourselves as technical experts, where emotion is a secondary skill at best).

Some quick thoughts, more later:

1) For a given presentation, what do you care about? (If you don’t know, or you don’t care, neither will your audience.)

2) Why do you care about it? It’s not necessary that your audience know this, but it helps if you do.

3) Look through your presentation. As you rehearse your delivery (you do practice, right?), do these things come through?

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