interview, emotion

Lessons from Europe: don’t forget emotion

I’m not going to start ranting about Europe. I’ve done enough of that on Facebook, which is a better place for personal opinions. I wonder, though, whether the debate that led up to the referendum has told us something about communications and the place of emotion in them?

As a media trainer I generally urge people to offer their point and then substantiate it with evidence. Proof points, customer testimonials, analyst reports – the sort of thing that will stack up in the business audience’s mind.

The EU debates were about more than a business audience of course. They were also filled with untruths from both sides (Leave said the UK could have £350m a week extra for the National Health Service and then recanted; George Osborne for Remain said he’d have to raid pensions and put more austerity in place if leave won, instead he’s talking about tax reductions for business). Nobody covered themselves in glory.

To understand what happened you have to look at other reasons people voted. You also have to look at the reason they continue to behave as they do.

Show some emotion

What the leave campaign did, brilliantly or despicably depending on your point of view, was to tap into people’s emotions. Boris Johnson saying “Let this be our independence day” may not have chimed with much reality, and a country that was already allowed to take a referendum on membership was logically already sovereign and in control or the EU could have stopped it.

The words and the passion resonated, however, with people’s emotional reaction to what was going on. Whatever your view, Johnson and Farage were rousing (or rabble-rousing if you prefer).

Contrast this with the colder, more logical approach of David Cameron, who often appears remote during interviews due to a serious air, and you have the recipe for electoral loss. The exaggerations and dishonesties were many on both sides, but the Brexiters succeeded in making people want their vision.

The anger that has followed has caught many people unawares. I believe it’s a mix of a lot of things; the key players’ almost indecent haste in leaving us to it (Cameron, Johnson and Farage have all resigned and it’s been only ten days) and the assumption by many that at least some of the warnings from the logic side were not scare-mongering but accurate has left a lot of people bewildered. The absence of leadership inevitably means there’s nobody to offer a coherent plan afterwards.

Emotion in your interviews

People who measure social media look at “sentiment”. In business interviews the smart money often says you should be logical and ensure your points are substantiated.

The EU campaign was not exclusively about business. It did, however, offer some evidence that to win an argument (or possibly steal a march on your competitor) you need to engage with people’s emotion as well as with their reasoning faculties.

So, this interview or presentation of yours: once more, with feeling!

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