The power of emotion is something that has a universal appeal and can breathe life into simple cold facts.
Have you ever pitched something you knew was great, only to have it shot down?
Of course you have. We all have. And though the rejection might be devastating in the moment, there’s a silver lining: More often than not, it has nothing to do with our ideas and everything to do with how our ideas are heard.
Whether it’s pitching yourself in a job interview, pitching a workflow improvement, or pitching investors, most professionals frequently use presentation skills to make an impact. Although we want to believe that everyone will listen to our ideas intently, evaluate them logically, and respond to them rationally, the truth is that the human brain is a staggeringly complex organism. Our decision-making is based on so much more than just logic and reason; it’s also based on emotion, which is why learning to bring emotion into your pitches is an absolute must.
In my time as the head of creativity and innovation at Disney, I spent nearly all day, every day pitching ideas and listening to the ideas of others. And during this time, I uncovered three tools that help ensure the power of emotion is always being leveraged: sensory styles, empathy, and realness. These approaches can transform everything from your elevator pitch at a networking event to your big ask to donors. They can even help you during your appeal to your boss for a raise.
Styles of learning
Close your eyes and try to answer the following question: How many days does September have? Hopefully, you answered “30.” But how you arrived at that number likely came about one of three ways. Auditory learners might have begun to recite phrase, “30 days has September” over and over. Kinesthetic learners likely began counting the spaces between their knuckles. And visual learners likely pictured a calendar page. People process information differently according to their sensory styles, so it’s essential to take a multimodal approach to accommodate all sensory styles during a pitch.
To successfully sell your ideas (or yourself), act as if everyone in the room represents a different sensory learning style. Don’t just talk about an idea — show the audience an image or a mock-up. Have them touch the model, feel the fabric, test the new software, or stand beside you at the whiteboard as you expand on the idea in real time. When you integrate the full spectrum of sensory styles in your idea pitches, you’re likelier to connect with your audience emotionally.
One of the most important emotions to leverage while sharing an idea is empathy. After all, if your audience can see themselves in your idea, they’re significantly more likely to come on board. Empathy empowers you to look past the data and immerse yourself in others’ perspectives, enabling you to speak to what truly matters to them. Whether you’re in a job interview, at a networking event, pitching for investors, or talking with your consumers, empathy uncovers ideas that might not be visible through data alone.
Case in point, the writers at Pixar are some of the best in the world at using empathy to create audience buy-in. In the 2008 smash hit Wall-E, audiences around the world found themselves empathizing with a robot that doesn’t speak. Why? Because at the beginning of the film, Wall-E watches a clip from Hello, Dolly! and the audience sees that, more than anything, Wall-E wants to be loved. And that’s a feeling we all can empathize with, even if it’s coming from an animated robot.
To inspire empathy, invite others into the customer’s shoes and into their emotional state. Illustrate how your idea solves their problem or eases their worries. Harnessing empathy encourages your audience to feel the truth behind your idea in addition to just hearing it.
Humans are much more likely to understand an idea if it feels real. My team was once tasked with marketing the Aulani Disney Resort in Hawaii to a new audience: parents with toddlers. Two bright young women pitched the idea of offering these parents packages of all the “stuff” they’d need to care for their children so that they didn’t have to travel with all their gear. When I first heard the idea, I just didn’t see the need for this service.
But the pair came back to me a week later with a new pitch. Only this time, instead of telling me the idea, they filled our conference room with all the items that parents of two toddlers would need for a week. Multiple strollers, diaper bags, cribs, toys — a mountain of tangible “stuff” piled onto our conference room table. Immediately, their idea became real to me, and I understood its practical value. And these parent packages become a core pillar of our new marketing program for the resort.
Let’s illustrate the power of realness in another example. Recently, I began work on a project for a global pharmaceutical company looking for innovative ways to help patients with arthritis. But as I looked around the room, I realized that not a single person there had this debilitating condition. So I made it real for them, giving everyone at the table a set of pennies and some Scotch tape. I instructed the group to affix two pennies onto each finger and on top of their knuckles. We proceeded to spend the day with these pennies affixed to our hands, making the idea of living with arthritis much more real. This ultimately helped the team develop a new device to help arthritis patients open and close objects. To make ideas real, be sure to show your audience storyboards, sketches, or prototypes. The goal is to make abstract ideas tangible so your audience can connect with them.
Ideas don’t stand on their own. They require a human touch, and humans run on emotion. By leveraging sensory styles, empathy, and realness, you can ensure your ideas are being shared with the power of emotion — and that no good idea ever goes unheard again.
Written by Duncan Wardle, Former Vice President at The Walt Disney Company, Creativity and Innovation Expert and Speaker.
See more about Duncan on WeSpeak Global here.
This article first appeared on Fast Company, Feb 24th 2022.