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What’s the best way to convince others to listen to your views, even when your views conflict with their own views? Apparently you can be more successful if you first touch the emotions of your listeners.  I already knew that it is a good idea to compliment your audience at the start of speech. Now I know why.

To explain what I mean, let me paraphrase Shankar Vedantam, host of the popular podcast “Hidden Brain.” I listened to the episode Facts Aren’t Enough: The Psychology Of False Beliefs. The guest being interviewed was neuroscientist Tali Sharot, a professor of cognitive neuroscience in the department of Experimental Psychology at University College London.

Emotions affect how we think

There was a study of Princeton University students who got their brains scanned while they listened to emotional speeches. What they found was the brains of the different people listening to those speeches started synchronizing and looking alike. It was not only in regions that are important for language and hearing, but also in regions that are important for emotion. That is, in regions that are important for what’s known as theory of mind (our ability to think about what other people are thinking) and in regions that are important for associations.

So, if a storyteller, or the person giving the speech, is able to elicit emotion in the other person, then he’s actually having somewhat of a control over that person’s state of mind.  By eliciting emotion, what you’re able to do is change the perception of everything that comes after – to perceive information as the person who’s giving the speech wants you to perceive it.

In this way, you can see how this coupling, this idea that the audience’s mind and the speaker’s mind are in some ways coupled together, could potentially be used to spread good information.

Can you, too, convince others?

People contact Speaking Arts International to learn how to influence and convince others. Storytelling is just one of the techniques we teach to do this. The factors that affect if you are influential can be: are you able to elicit emotion in the other person? Can you tell a story? Are you taking into account the state of mind of the person in front of you? Are you giving them data that conforms to their preconceived notions?  All those factors make one speech more influential than the other.