Recently I saw a fascinating TED talk by David JP Philips called ‘The Magical Science of Storytelling’, where he explains how certain chemicals in your brain are triggered when we hear a great story. He refers to these chemicals - oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins as ‘The Angel’s Cocktail’, the emotions we all crave when we hear a great story. With practice we can all trigger these emotions when writing or delivering presentations. Here’s how.
Oxytocin is often referred to as the ‘love’ chemical. When this is triggered you feel more generous, have feelings of trust and feel very connected to the story teller. Your task is therefore to evoke empathy when you tell or write a presentation.
There are several ways you an do this.
Firstly show your vulnerability, so people can connect with you. It’s important to park your ego - no-one like a show off. Don’t brag. Instead, tell a personal story where you failed and recovered or else demonstrate how you may have struggled to achieve a goal. Make it relatable.
Secondly, show you care for the audience you’re connecting with. Put yourself in their shoes and demonstrate you have an understanding of how they feel. .
Thirdly, demonstrate you have worthy motives and a passion for the subject you’re talking about. Show that you’re committed to a cause or an issue that the audience feels strongly about and highlight how you’ve acted upon it.
Demonstrating empathy is a critical first step. Without this, your presentation will never connect with the audience or the readers.
When your brain is flooded with endorphins you feel relaxed, focused and creative. The way to do this is to inject humour into your presentation. No matter how serious the topic, everyone enjoys a bit of a laugh.
Obviously, you need to be careful - you don’t want your audience to squirm or feel embarrassed, but a bit of gently humour always goes down well. For example, tell an amusing anecdote that the audience will relate to - but make sure you’ve road tested and practiced it. Within your presentation slides use playful images, amusing quotations or the odd cartoon to add a lighthearted tone. Humour also helps with building empathy. (See above.)
Ask yourself - how can I add some levity to my presentation? How can I make the audience smile and feel relaxed?
The final chemical is dopamine, which results in greater focus, higher motivation and a better memory. Dopamine is triggered by cliffhangers and suspense. This is one of most powerful techniques used by gifted storytellers and something we can all learn from. It’s the reason we stay up all night binge-watching boxsets. We all want to know what’s going to happen next.
There are different ways we can do this. For example, create a sense of anticipation by asking a question early in the presentation and then answering it much later. Secondly, introduce a sense of jeopardy. Highlight a conflict or struggle within the story before ending with a satisfying resolution. And finally another technique, much beloved by Steve Jobs is ‘the big reveal’. Keep the audience waiting and finally, come up with a surprising, exciting twist.
Ask yourself - how can I keep my audience hooked throughout my presentation?
So to sum up.
We’re addicted to great stories. We always have been. They trigger the chemicals in our brains that we crave - oxytocin, endorphins and dopamine. The next time you write a presentation or deliver a speech, deliberately induce these emotions through the tried and trusted techniques used by the great storytellers. Your audience will love you for it.