We’ve written about the power of visuals within a presentation on the blog before. And the value of a well-crafted spoken narrative. But when these two, fundamental components are combined in just the right way, it can work wonders on an audience – leaving many members of it covered in goosebumps. Currently, you can see political parties analyzing the power of visuals and audio and tapping into it as they begin to construct messages that are designed to make a radical impact on their desired audience (a.k.a. prospective constituents). You can see it at both the state and federal level and on both sides of the aisle.
Republican Darius Foster produced the following ad as part of his 2014 campaign for state representative in Alabama:
And most recently, Democrat presidential candidate Bernie Sanders disseminated the ad below:
When I watched these ads, I wasn’t scared of the content. Rather, I admired the ads – how they were produced, how the messages were conveyed through words and visuals. It’s the same physiological response I can recall having to particular singers in the church choir when I was younger. I always thought it was something about their voices. And it is true that the way the brain processes sound plays a role in the creation of goosebumps. But the origin of goosebumps is much more complex.
When we hear music that we resonate with, the hair on our skin rises, our heart rate increases, our body temperature falls, and we breathe a bit faster. While all humans will experience the same physiological responses, the moments in which we get these goosebumps varies from person to person. The experience is distinct and personal for each and every one of us. Our brains react to certain songs or speeches. Activity increases in the nucleus accumbens as a result of dopamine release. We receive emotional cues, which the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex then interprets so we can make a decision. This structure, along with the hypothalamus and insula, are activated in autonomic nervous system arousal – which causes our physiological responses to song and speech.
There are many other parts of the brain at play during a goosebumps-worthy experience. Here are steps to take to enhance goosebumps opportunities in your own speech or presentation and how your audience members’ brains will be activated in the process:
Determine the main concepts you want your audience to glean from your presentation and build your talk as a series of experiences. A recent study found that goosebumps, piloerection, or frisson occur most often in those individuals that are more open to experiences – implying that cognitive focus could be a significant factor in frisson. If you are a presenter, crafting a presentation with an experience mindset can inspire goosebumps if you understand where your audience is right now, where you want them to be, and where you assume they want to be at the end of your presentation. Before creating your presentation content, send your assumptions to the event organizer, if possible, so he or she can confirm or deny your beliefs. This will help in your attempt to write your presentation narrative with intent.
After gathering fairly accurate insight about your audience and their wants and needs, you can begin developing the content for your presentation’s series of experiences. Writing with intention involves more than just telling your audience what they want to hear if you desire to induce frisson. It involves using storytelling techniques such as a visual metaphor or other literary device. Take, for example, the Bernie Sanders ad mentioned at the beginning of this post. About 34 seconds into the ad, Bernie says, “When we stand together – as white, black, Hispanic, gay, and straight, and woman and man…” The ad utilizes amplification to add more structure and meaning to a point it is trying to make about the Sanders campaign and his beliefs in general. In the Darius Foster ad, a literary device called an archetype. The genius technique he employed, however, was taking himself physically out of the ad and altering the archetype of candidate to fit the constituents featured in the video. By telling more about himself through his constituents, he used the archetype of leader to empower them and to show that he is driven by those that vote for him. Incorporating literary devices into your presentation will not only catch your audience’s attention, but it will also trigger your amygdala – the structure involved in assessing certain stimuli and projecting its assessment to the prefrontal cortex and midbrain.
If you can convey an important concept with a literary device and use the information you know about your audience to link this concept to their ongoing goals, then the prefrontal cortex will react more easily. This means your audience will be more likely to experience frisson.
The Sanders campaign ad uses relevant visuals by playing to our ability to resonate better with photography focused on facial elements and expressions and corresponding the audio to the visuals.The Foster ad uses a unique interpretation of the candidate’s audio, but also utilizes the same facial-focused techniques as Sanders. And since visuals are processed 60,000X faster than text, it makes sense to use them. But how do visuals incite goosebumps? The answer lies with the insula, which controls the body’s connection to aesthetic stimuli. When the audience is listening to you, portions of the temporal cortex send perceptual and cognitive representations of the melody, harmony, timbre, meter, tempo, phrasing, lyric etc. components to many other brain areas, according to the BBC. Relevant visuals could speed up the temporal cortex message delivery process and increase your audience’s retention of a concept.
Recent research determined that the quality of the acoustics of a venue factor greatly in the emotional response and experience of your audience. According to the study conducted by Jukka Patynen and Tapio Lokki, musical performances given in traditional rectangular halls resulted in better psychophysiological responses than other types of venues. Although the engineer of an auditorium probably designed the venue with these in mind, a presenter might benefit from analyzing these four components: background noise, reinforcement of the desired sound, the distribution of sound, and reverberation time.
Dynamic music with steady surges in intensity has been shown to enhance audience attention. There is no reason why a presenter shouldn’t explore with dynamic or varied tones throughout the course of their presentation to conjure an emotional and attentional response. One set of studies indicated that the top 2 instances that produced goosebumps are coldness and moments where we report feeling awe – such as in the midst of an inspiring speech or performance. The more awe experienced by study participants, the higher intensity of the frisson reported. David Shariatmadari, editor and writer for the Guardian, pointed to a 1991 study that discovered a link between unexpectedness and emotional experiences including goosebumps in relation to musical structures. An unexpected shift in the tone of your speech can shock your audience and promote their attention to your message.
With a more laser-focused approach to audience research, more intent-driven copy, an intuitive use of visuals, brief acoustic assessment, and a willingness to be unexpected, you can achieve a presentation capable of eliciting waves of goosebumps to appear on your audience member’s skin. For more information about goosebumps and ways you can foster audience attention and retention, explore the following resources.
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