Presenting Tips: 4 Rules of Engagement


Even the most well informed argument won’t on its own persuade your audience to ‘buy into’ your proposal – they’ll need to have been   persuaded on an emotional level, too. Emotions play a major role in our decision-making, more than facts or data. There are at least two reasons for this:

  • People are more captivated by emotional accounts than they are by facts and data
  • Responding emotionally is more convenient than considering all the pros and cons of a proposal

If you think back to the last, most persuasive presentation you attended, it’s highly likely that you were first captivated  on an emotional level, and perhaps only then did you put on your rational thinking hat to consider logically the facts before you.  Below are four ways to help you appeal to your audience’s emotions – used appropriately and regularly throughout your presentation, they are highly effective.

 1. Use metaphors

 A metaphor is simply a figure of speech whereby a comparison is made between two things that appear to be different, but which have some aspect in common.  Here’s an example of a metaphor:

 “It’s time we let autumn’s winds of change blow away the cobwebs from our organisation ...”

“We need our cash cows to remain strong.”

There are several types of metaphor. “Work is a bloody battle,” for example, is an ‘organizing metaphor’. Organizing metaphors are pervasive in work environments and are the overarching worldviews that frame people’s everyday actions. An example of an organizing metaphor is, “We cannot concede any more ground to them… we’ve got to defend our market share.”

How to use metaphors to your advantage

  •          Organizing metaphors provide a great opportunity to challenge or influence an existing ‘worldview’. For example, use a compelling, positive metaphor to replace an existing negative one: instead of “Work is a bloody battle”, your metaphor could be: “Work is building alliances and forging partnerships.”
  •          Give examples of organisations that have achieved success using your more positive example, for example, and to continue the theme, “XYZ have transformed their company culture by recognising and rewarding collaboration, and here’s how…”
  •          Provide a solutions-focussed response to counter the negativity expressed by the metaphor, for example, “We’ve overlooked the importance of collaboration and this is why we’ve received low scores for workforce motivation. We need to …”

2. Use Analogies

Analogies are also comparisons, but they usually include the words ‘as’ or ‘like’ to enable you to relate one idea to another, more familiar one. Analogies are sometimes referred to as ‘similes’ and are ‘expressed’, whereas metaphors are ‘implied’. Analogies are useful because they make it easier for people to accept a new idea or proposal.  Here’s an example of an analogy:

"The new system is about as useful as a chocolate teapot.”

Analogies that make people either laugh or smile are particularly memorable, so include the odd one or three in your presentations.

3. Paint vivid pictures

 A great way of tapping into your audience’s emotions is to use vivid descriptions in your presentation. Help them to see with their mind’s eye the benefits of what you are proposing by painting an evocative image using words. For example, imagine that you are trying to persuade your managers to approve a proposal to enable your department members, who work as hard as industrious ants, to work from home a couple of days a week. To do this, you could describe in vivid detail the disruptive reality of office-life and the effect this has on productivity.  You could talk about your team being engulfed by an endless stream of interruptions from well-meaning colleagues from other departments. Then contrast this with the tranquillity of working from home, not forgetting to describe the benefits you’ve unearthed from other companies who have a work-from-home policy.

4. Tell a story

We all love stories, and stories are a great way to bring presentations to life and drive home key messages.  What’s important is to include a story that is not only relevant to your point but which will also grab your listeners’ attention.  Use metaphors, analogies and vivid pictures in your story to really engage your audience.

These four strategies emphasise the importance of language in helping you to engage with your audience on an emotional level.  Once you’ve won their hearts, their minds will be well disposed to listening to the logical arguments of your proposals.




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