Your content and emotion

You may recall that back in the summer, one of my monthly Updates was all about storytelling (What do you mean you don’t get my Update? Well hop on over here and sign up now – the sign up is at the bottom of the page). Storytelling is a very hot topic and so I’ve also been writing on LinkedIn recently about making case studies more interesting by thinking of them as case stories.

And when it comes to making your stories (and your other writing and speeches too) resonate more with your readers, there is a really important element that often seems to get overlooked. And that is of course … emotion.

If I knew a bit more about science, I might be tempted to say that emotion is what separates us from animals. But I don’t and actually, my dogs are very emotional. But what I do know is that emotion is fundamentally important to us as human beings.

emotional writing

A smell, a sound, a single word can conjure up strong memories and emotions. We remember how someone made us feel but not necessarily what they said. We love a weepy film or a cause that makes us feel empowered or impassioned.

Emotion is what makes us feel alive, connected, motivated and inspired. And that makes it super important and powerful in your writing or your public speaking.

Emotional decision making and persuasion

There’s little doubt that emotion plays a major part in our decision-making processes. That’s not just my opinion. It’s backed by science.  Back in the mid-1990s, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio found himself treating Elliott, a successful and intelligent businessman. Elliott had suffered from a brain tumour which had been successfully treated.

But his life was falling apart. Why? Because he was unable to make any decisions.

And why was that? Becuase the part of his brain that dealt with emotion and feelings had been damaged. And not just in respect of big decisions. Any old decision, right down to what colour socks he should wear or what pen he should use. Elliott and his lack of emotion marked the beginning of a new way of thinking about the extent to which emotion is integral to decision making.

I won’t go into great detail (although if you want to know more, Damasio has summed it all up quite nicely in his book Descartes’ Error – Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain) but what it means is that when you think about how to persuade or compel someone, you need to think long and hard about the emotional side of the process. In short, we tend to make decisions based on gut instinct and emotion and then we validate that decision with logic and reasoned argument. Of course, all that happens in a Nanosecond. But it’s part of the process and can’t be ignored.

So if you’re trying to help someone make a decision with your writing (or with your public speaking for that matter), you really need to build in some emotion or your readers might just end up like Elliott…unable to decide or worse still, completely unmoved.

(And if you need any more help with persuasion, check out last month’s post on how to persuade.)

So how do you get emotional when you’re writing?

Well, the good news is, you’ve already taken the first step …hopefully. Because you’ve started thinking about emotions and that’s half (well almost half) the battle won. Now, as you approach a piece of writing, try and think about the following:

  1. Which emotions are at play. There’s always some emotion involved even if you’re writing about financial services or law. In fact, especially if you’re writing about financial services or law. There’s fear …of not having enough money, being sued, being chased by the tax man, of dying, or breaking the law, of losing all your investments. Then there’s the pain of divorce, failure and bereavement. But on the upside, there’s relief, peace of mind, happiness, pride, a sense of achievement, a feeling of courage. Think about what your readers may be feeling and what you’d like them to feel. You know the old saying, think about going from pain to pleasure. It’s an inherently appealing formula. We all want to feel good.
  2. Don’t forget to think about the senses that are often involved with emotions or the physical impact on someone. Fear can evoke sweaty hands and feeling sick or hot. The hairs on your neck may stand on end. Pleasure…well we won’t go there.
  3. If you’re still stuck, think about films, books or adverts that stand out in your memory or got you right there, in the gut. What about blogs or social media links that you end up clicking or reading – even against your better judgement. What was it about them? I bet it had something to do with emotion! Curiosity perhaps?
  4. Once you’ve identified the emotion or emotions that you’re going to major on, then start using them from the off. That means in your headline. Do your hands sweat as you stand up to speak? How to make sure you never run out of money. Crude examples but you get the idea.

storytelling in business

Don’t forget about stories 

And that all brings us neatly back to storytelling. Emotions are embedded in stories which is why so many great speakers start with a story. They get our attention, and they hone right in on our emotions. They help us relate to the speaker or writer and make it personal and relevant. So, have a think for a moment. Can you use an example, a case story or a personal anecdote, to drive home that emotion at the beginning of your writing or speech?

Tip on storytelling: as a rule of thumb, I recommend that you limit how much of a piece of writing or speech is purely anecdotal – after all, you don’t want to make it all about you (there are some exceptions). Then make sure it’s relevant. That means thinking about your audience. Are they going to relate to the particular emotion involved, is it something they’ve experienced? If not, back to the drawing board.

Engaging emotions is not new and it’s not rocket science. Neither does it take extensive research to identify the emotions at play. Some common sense and a little thought will take you a long way.

So go on.

Get out the tissues.

Get thinking.

And get all emotional.

Still flummoxed? Drop me an email and I’ll see if I can help: 

And if you haven’t already and you need help with blogs, don’t forget about my blog package. The price will go up in the new year.