I stumbled upon a Charlie Rose interview with TED curator, Chris Anderson and it was one of those moments that makes you think more seriously about the power of intention. The timing was perfect. I was getting ready for an important presentation and was thinking about how to approach a very smart, very busy audience.  And there was my answer: stop trying to craft a rigorous argument, and instead, fire up their “mirror neurons.”

I won’t bore you with the science in this post, but you can read about it here.  I would rather focus directly on why both veteran and aspiring speakers should care about this human-to- human phenomenon: that we are capable of connecting on a very deep level – from the stage to the cheap seats – with people we’ve never met before.  We simply have to make our audience feel rather than think.

Here is the most salient exchange between Charlie Rose and Chris Anderson:

Rose: What do the best [speakers] have?”

Anderson: “They have figured out a way to connect with other people and make them want to care. They have clarity – they don’t get lost in jargon. There’s a certain empathy that [the best speakers] have…they look audience members in the eye and share their passion. Something very magical is happening at that point.”

Rose: “It is a magical thing.  To see somebody walk into a room and be able to, through telling stories, have [the audience] almost breathing in rhythm with the speaker.”

Anderson: “We now know that when one human being exhibits an emotion, the people watching that person have the same mirror neurons firing in their brains. They actually are that person for a moment.”

One of my coaching clients is currently a central player in a corporate merger and as a result, has to attend and/or present at numerous meetings with buyers, bankers, etc. There are meetings on top of meetings and everyone is tired and bored. When I asked him how many times he or one of his team members told a story or made their potential buyers feel something, he said, “Never. There’s no place for that kind of thing. We have to stick to the script.”

I then showed him the Hans Rosling TED Talk in which this intelligent and highly engaging statistician weaves a wonderful story with dazzling visuals and ultimately captivates his audience.  That was all it took.  The next day my client met with his team to redesign the presentations.

It takes time and a little courage to give something of yourself to your audience.  Now we have scientific evidence to prove that it’s worth the effort.

– Barbara