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Don’t frighten them to death but, to have impact and be memorable, you must make people feel something……..

Last Thursday I sat down in front of the TV with my family and my dinner.  “How about an episode of American Office?”, said Lucy.  “We haven’t watched it for ages.”  We all agreed so she lined one up.

As the theme tune started, I felt the most extraordinary surge of emotion; a vivid, visceral recollection of lockdown and the many evenings we spent watching this series. It was a strange and slightly unsettling sensation. I was transported back to April 2020 – a period of heightened and intense feelings.

Which is why the memories are so strong.

And why I’m writing this piece.

Simply put (condensing decades of research by neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists) there is a strong link between emotion and memory.

“An emotive state at the time we perceive and process an observation can positively affect the encoding (creating a memory) of the information into the short and long-term memory”.

That’s why many people have vivid recollections of where they were when significant events happened, eg JFK’s assassination, 9/11, Princess Diana’s death.

It’s also the inspiration behind the amazing work of award-winning teacher and rapper MC Grammar (https://www.mrmcgrammar.com/) who was on BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live programme yesterday morning (30 October). He had trouble absorbing facts at school but was passionate about music. He discovered that if he combined music and facts, he could more easily retain the content. He was essentially harnessing his emotional response to music and wrapping it (via rap) around the factual material to help encode it. He now applies this technique to help children and teachers across the land.

As for the science behind the emotion/memory connection, it’s thought to be down to interactions between the hippocampus and the amygdala. “Of course, I thought it would be that”, I hear you cry!

Question – why should we care? How is this of value to us in our daily and corporate lives? And what’s it got to do with communication?

Answer – it has everything to do with communication because it’s the key to grabbing our audience’s attention, ensuring that they encode our content and take it away with them.

Whether you’re giving a presentation or doing an interview or contributing to a meeting, it’s therefore vital that you build in content which provokes an emotional response. That content might be an image, a fact, a chart, a case study, a testimonial, a quotation, video, audio, a graph. No rules about what sort of content you can use. It’s simply about making your audience feel something – excitement, fear, pride, anxiety, hope, curiosity. This is how we will influence people, how we will communicate with impact; how we will be memorable.

And if you don’t believe me or MC Grammar, take it from Aristotle, who knew a thing or two about human beings even 2300 years ago……

Persuasion may come when the speech stirs the emotions”.

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