February 15, 2013

Can you convey your message without words?

This spot is only 30 seconds long. There's very little dialog. But you are instantly drawn emotionally into the story (only someone with a heart of stone could look at that little girl's expression and not feel something). The whole thing plays out visually, an entire story, with a beginning, a middle and an end. Take a look:

Speakers speak. And therefore, we use lots of words. But if you want to make an emotional connection with your audience, words cannot stand alone.

If you want your audience to do something as a result of your presentation, you have to persuade them, convince them, move them. This is where emotion comes into play. Words, facts, statistics, charts and data are not enough. Your movement, gestures and facial expression are all key components to filling in the spaces where words can't finish the job.

I have a deep aversion to rehearsed gestures and facial expressions for anyone but actors. As a speaker, you have to be in the moment with your audience, not so rehearsed that those gestures and facial expressions come across as wooden and robotic. So do practice how you want to express the more emotional aspects of your presentation -- the parts of the presentation that will make your audience feel joy, outrage, sadness, confusion, amusement, disgust, surprise, anticipation -- but leave some room for spontaneity when you're in the room with actual people, being real and authentic.

Here's another favorite Subaru ad that you've probably seen. Another 30-second father-daughter spot that expresses a lot of its message through emotion.

These ads have mastered the concept of "Show, don't tell," a mantra for writers and actors that expresses the requirement that audiences experience the story through the characters' actions and emotions rather than through narration and descriptions. You can "tell" the audience your point of view and your opinions and your facts till you're blue in the face. But "showing" them so they experience it emotionally for themselves --that's how you make a lasting impression.

And finally, one of my all-time favorites for a message with no words at all, but incredible emotional impact. Yes, another family-oriented ad. I guess I'm a sucker for them, and I don't even have kids!

Read my analysis of this commercial here.

So let me ask you this: Are you relying on words to convey your message at the expense of emotion?

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2 comments. Please add yours! :

Craig Hadden said...

Great message and great clips, Lisa! I’d seen Embrace Life before, but it still brought a tear to my eye.

I’d not seen the Subaru ads. The one with the little girl driving was particularly effective, I thought.

Here’s an ad about speaking in public that you might enjoy – and it only uses 3 spoken words. (Sometimes it might be fun to work in

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for stopping by, Craig! I've seen the robber ad before -- love it!

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