Assign a 'primary' menu

All posts by Sandy Donovan

Computer Mediated Communication: Helpful or Hurtful?

Have you read the article about creating influence by understanding the three key factors associated with power? In short, it discusses three factors that you must consider when establishing power in your network.

Those factors are:

1. the number of ties you have in your network,

2. how close you are to each of those ties and

3. If you have the ability to directly contact those members of your network.

Now that we communicate on the computer so often, how can we use it to increase our power?

A study published in 2013 in Information Technology and People looked at the use of computer mediated communication specifically in the workplace. They found the use of such communication mediums, such as email and instant message, significantly increase the number of ties in an individual’s workplace as well as the closeness to those ties. If you work in a large organization and are not able to interact face to face with everyone on a daily basis, the use of email and instant messaging can actually help you increase the power you hold in your network by building your personal relationships.

However, there is a flip side. Those who had the most outgoing messages also showed a decrease in work performance. No good. As discussed in Communicating Your Credibility, others perceive you as credible or not based both on character as well as competence. You must have the competence in order to leverage character traits.


Free presentation templates - click here.

Free presentation templates

I want to hear –  how do you balance the use of technology in the work place? Leave a comment below!!

Improve your online credibility in 3 steps

Improve your online credibility in 3 steps

Are you knowledgeable, credible and trustworthy? Does your audience perceive you that way?
Or, do they see you as the equivalent of a used car salesman?
The trustworthiness of professionals in the business world is questionable. As an audience can assume a business professional is interested in self-gain, it is understandable that credibility is questioned. Add to that constant news stories reporting business executives and policy makers that make unethical decisions and it is no wonder the general public questions many professionals.
In order to establish and maintain credibility, it is important to optimize your online presence to create transparency, vulnerability and to empower your audience. Only then will you become credible in their eyes and have the opportunity to change beliefs, attitudes and actions.
Through helping others develop presentations, I’ve learned that deriving credibility is one of the most difficult tasks for a presenter. What is surprising to most data driven professionals is that credibility is not strictly based off of what you have done and what you know, but often, how the audience feels about you. Unfortunately, your actual credibility and your perceived credibility are not the same. Yet, it is your perceived credibility that makes all the difference when it comes to persuading others to change their attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.
How can you improve your credibility? It is best to earn credibility before you even have a conversation with your audience. Here, you will learn three steps to improve your perceived credibility online so that you can begin to change the attitudes, beliefs and actions of decision makers, word wide.

Step 1: Become transparent

The first thing to do is develop a website. It is important that you do not hide behind the text. Rather, open yourself up to the public by displaying your picture, means of contact, video with a personal message to site visitors, and other insights into your personality . All of this seeks to increase transparency.
Transparency will allow the audience to identify with you. An audience is most likely to follow those who seem similar to them. As a scientist, your work might appear distant to many people outside of your field. It is difficult to relate to data. Putting a human behind the work allows the audience to find similarities between you and them. Identification is a very strong factor in persuasion. Kenneth Burke claims that in order for persuasion to take place, identification must also take place.
[Related: Free resources to improve online communication]

Step 2: Become vulnerable

Specifically, share personal information that creates vulnerability through social media.
In the article Communication strategies for earning trust in climate change debates, Goodwin and Dahlstrom discuss four strategies that scientists can use to improve their credibility. Vulnerability was one of those. It can work for professionals in any field.
Becoming vulnerable is perhaps against all intuition for any professional. This vulnerability is an aspect of you that the audience must see to begin to realize your expertise. By showing more than your professional side, you become human. In the long run, becoming vulnerable will ultimately lead to increased credibility.

Step 3: Make small claims

Make small claims that the audience can verify. It is not always feasible for your audience to verify every recommendation you make. For instance, if you advice on investments, the audience might not have the means to follow each of your recommendations. If you advise on marketing, they may not sit in the decision seat that will allow such an experiment. However, there are likely small recommendations that are free or inexpensive that your audience can work through before making a larger commitment. Allowing them to do so will help to build trust and credibility. After they have verified small claims, they are more likely to accept other claims that they are unable or unwilling to verify.
Establishing an online presence will allow you to become transparent, vulnerable and provide a platform that empowers your audience. All of these will create an opportunity for you to reach more people and become more credible among non-academics.
To learn more about communicating your credibility, read this article that outlines the two components of credibility: character and competence.

Subscribe below and grab your FREE copy of

“How to Organize Any Presentation”

with 7 BONUS Templates

[button link=”” type=”big” color=”red” newwindow=”yes”] Download [/button]  

You’ll get the How to Guide plus 7 free BONUS templates.

brainstorm content

Brainstorm content ideas that captivate with these 3 easy steps [How To]

Brainstorm content ideas in 3 easy steps [How To]

So….. what are you going to talk about?

If you regularly produce content either online or for live presentations, you know that coming up with fresh ideas is challenging. Even if you have a general topic, you’ll need to decide how you want to narrow that topic so it is interesting and relevant for your audience, is technical enough to add value, but not too technical to confuse or overwhelm the audience, and fits within your allotted time/space. Having a system to brainstorm content is critical, but you don’t want to systematize that process so much that you kill your creativity. That is a lot to think about!!

In this post, you’ll learn how to use Kenneth Burke’s pentad to brainstorm content for your presentation, video or post.

I first discovered the pentad in a rhetorical studies class. It is used to analyze a rhetorical situation, specifically to uncover the drama and motivations behind actions. This is perfect for brainstorming content because that is exactly what you want to do; that is, you’ll want to discover their motives for action. Once you discover the motives, you can create a captivating story about any topic.

There is always drama under the surface, even in mundane topics. Since it it tax season, we’ll use accounting as an example.

Following are three steps to use the pentad to identify the drama in any situation, giving you something interesting to talk about.

Brainstorm content ideas

Brainstorm content that captivates

Step 1: Learn the 5 Parts of the Pentad

The first thing is to understand the pentad. There are five parts.

  1. Actor – who is involved
  2. Purpose – the motivation
  3. Agency –  the means – the how
  4. Scene – where did this take place
  5. Act – what happened

The second step is to identify these elements in your particular situation. To do this, make a list of all the components down the side of a paper.  Then, assign each element to a piece of a story or text.

Example:  You are an accountant. It is tax season. This isn’t sexy stuff. Yet, you’ll want to find the drama in the situation – that which is motivation for your audience to take action. Let’s see what we can come up with.

Step 2: Analyze the Situation

Actor: The small business owner.

Note:  There are always multiple actors. Let’s just analyze one for now and you’ll get the idea.

Purpose: to adhere to all tax laws while still paying as little as possible and saving time in the process.

Agency: An annual event

Scene:  Quickbooks, Freshbooks, the internet.

Act: Searching for information to help.

Step 3: Find the Tension

Now that you have used the pentad to analyze the situation, you can now begin to look for tension between these elements.

The purpose of the pentad is to identify the drama. By finding the drama, you will locate the emotion behind any situation. It always exists. As you begin to analyze each element, try pairing each up. For instance, pair the actor with the purpose. Does the actor carry some sort of fear that is motivating the act? What about the agency and the scenario? Did the situation elicit some sort of special circumstance that made this event possible when it otherwise wouldn’t have been?

In this situation, perhaps there is tension between the actor and the purpose. For instance, if we identify a small business owner as the actor, s/he might fear adhering to all laws. Or, might fear the amount of fees involved with the entire process. Could you capitalize on this emotion while telling your own story? Could you create a blog post or presentation that specifically highlights a small business owner who is experiencing this fear and confusion? Can you brainstorm any other content ideas by looking at other possible areas of tension?

The fun, the excitement and the interest lies within the tension. Find the combination that your audience can best identify with and that is where your focus lies. This will serve as a way to brainstorm content for your audience and allow you to use drama and narrative to convey your points. For more information about the effect of story in your message, see this article that summarizes a study from Ohio State University.

You’re now able to brainstorm content that captivates using these 3 easy steps.

Subscribe below and grab your FREE copy of

“How to Organize Any Presentation”

with 7 BONUS Templates

We respect your email privacy

How to bore your audience

How to bore your audience

Every semester, I assign my students a task: present an informative speech on anything you’d like, as long as it is between 5-7 minutes.

The groans that follow are a bit overly dramatic considering the complexity of the task.

Yet, this is my favorite part of the semester. Why? It is the time that students realize that information, and the act of informing and being informed, are not boring in and of themselves. It is all up to the person presenting and the way the information is presented.

Unfortunately, we have come to associate that term – information – with long lists of bulleted points, complex technical jargon that we don’t understand and a never ending deck of blue Power Point slides that do little more than waste our time.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. And it shouldn’t be like that. Stories are much more interesting. Stories are also much more persuasive. You should use them in all of your presentations – whether you are presenting to the board or your biggest client, humans relate to narrative.

It is neither my students’ inexperience, age nor skill level that has led them to misunderstand this concept. Ask someone 20 years their senior and he or she will likely have the same thought. Rather, the problem is the inexperience and skill level of those that speak.

In order for your listeners to stop associating your presentations (and therefore, you) with boredom, you must begin to use narrative in your presentation. This is the case whether your topic is technical or common. Following is a comparison of the traditional, fact based presentation to the use of narrative.

Option 1: rely on a fact based presentation.

Fact based presentations rely mostly on statistics, facts and definitions to relay information.  Speakers often rely on this type of evidence to support their point because they are unsure how to best get their point across. The idea is further confused when people believe their topic is unique: too technical, too complex, too serious, etc. to utilize anything but statistics and facts.

The problem with relying solely on this type of supporting material is that the speaker essentially removes all trace of emotion. The topic becomes cold and distant. There is rarely a connection to the speaker in this scenario either.

So what can you do? How do you successfully convey complex, technical issues to an audience without heavily relying on statistics and facts?

Rely on a narrative

Examples and narratives are two types of supporting material that are available to you, as a speaker. It is true that you can not rely 100% on a story or an example to prove your point. It will be a weak argument. However, this doesn’t mean that you should avoid these entirely.  Examples and stories focus on human characteristics and activate human emotion. If your audience can identify with the story, the character and the situation, they will feel an emotional connection that will drive them to change their attitudes, beliefs and ultimately actions.

For the narrative to successfully impact the audience, the audience must identify with the characters in the story. A study from the Ohio State University compared the effectiveness of a news report vs. an episode of the O.C. in persuading college students to practice safe sex. As you can probably guess after reading the  first half of this post, the episode of the O.C. was more persuasive, at least for part of the audience.

As it turns out, a news report (one actually used in high schools) that outlines the struggles that teenage moms might encounter, made no impact on the attitude of the audience two weeks post viewing. However, the episode of the O.C. that told a story about a character that experienced a tough time because of a pregnancy had a significant effect on the college women that viewed it, even two weeks after the viewing. The effect was stronger when the young women felt that they could identify with the characters in the story. Those who did not identify with the characters (such as males) were not likely to change their attitude about safe sex.

This study illustrates the point that narratives are effective. They are more effective than simply stating the facts. The audience is not likely to change their minds or behavior without feeling a connection to the topic.

Ok, so teenage pregnancy is one thing. What about those of you who talk about other, less relatable topics? Like website design? Or finances? The reality is, a speaker can and should address every topic with the question, “why should the audience care?” Find that emotional trigger. In both the examples above, money is the clear choice, but often there is more. After careful analysis of your audience, you’ll find it. And, if you can’t find it, it might not work as a topic for that particular audience.

For more information about using the pentad, see this article about using narrative in your communication. 

Research in this post

Ohio State University. (2010, February 11). TV drama can be more persuasive than news program, study finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 27, 2014 from


Subscribe below and grab your FREE copy of

“How to Organize Any Presentation”

with 7 BONUS Templates

We respect your email privacy

How to Improve your Online Communication – Free Resources and Tools from Around the Web

How to Communicate Online – Free Resources and Tools from Around the Web

The world has changed. You absolutely need an online presence. Whether you are working your way up the corporate ladder, or starting a side project, setting yourself up online can give you a competitive edge. However, setting yourself up isn’t enough. You need to let people know you are out there so the right people can find you at the right times, when they want your expertise.

To do this, you must learn how to communicate online.

Over the past few years, I have slowly begun to build an online presence. While I was learning, these tools were the ones I relied on the most. I used them in different stages of development. Some I used for inspiration when I was just starting, some I use today.

Below, you will find a list of these tools. The best part? They are all free! What would you add to the list?


Social Media Marketing

Savvy Sexy Social – a good source for social media AND video tips! She also is part of a company called Vlog boss that has some video tips (or can do the entire thing for you if you would like). Bonus: she is fun. You might especially like her editorial calendar for 2014 if you are interested in planning out your videos or blogs ahead of time. She also has a great Twitter guide for setting up your social media plan, but you have to subscribe to her newsletter to get it. 

Amy Porterfield – she is known for Facebook marketing and she has a ton of free webinars and other things. She also has one of the best marketing podcasts out there.


Derek Halpern – He is known for teaching psychological principles behind getting people to subscribe to a blog (among other things), but I think that if you are on the fence about starting a blog, you’d like this post at this moment (he is also quite fun)

HubSpot – they are absolutely amazing. Go to their Academy section or their Marketing Library because OH MY GOODNESS they give away so much information for absolutely free. I get pictures, books, templates for blogs and ebooks, EVERYTHING. I love them. And, they are always adding to the list or resources.

Pat Flynn – Specifically, his post about launching a new site and how to do it in a big way. He’s the man!  


Hootsuite – you can have an online presence 24/7 with only spending about 40 minutes a day to set up all your marketing. This is a free program that allows you to schedule posts on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, wherever, ahead of time. Sometimes I’ll sit down and schedule posts for two weeks. If you use the editorial calendar I showed you above and know when your content is going out, you’ll be able to schedule the publicity of it and not have to actually be at your computer to do it. If you would like to stay involved and maintain relationships on social media, but don’t want it to get in the way of actual work, this tool is a must. It rocks.

MailChimp – If you would like to collect email addresses (which I HIGHLY recommend that you do so that you can have a rolodex of potential clients when it comes time to offer a product or class or look for a job, or whatever else you may want to do in the future). MailChimp will do this for you for free. It isn’t the best product out there, but it is the best of the free. Once you start getting clients and a list, you’ll want to upgrade to Aweber. They are $20/month. You really should start doing this right away and keep in touch with your subscribers on a regular basis. I know it is a common thought that these things are annoying and no one wants to sell. However, if you don’t need to only contact your subscribers to sell something. You can also give them something. If you are providing value, then this isn’t annoying at all. For instance, I signed up for a 21 day meditation guide with Oprah and Deepak around November. Every morning, I received an email with the day’s meditation. I loved it, because I wanted it.  If you do the same thing, you’ll provide value and your customers will look forward to your emails, not dread them.

Canva – If you want to design some pictures, but don’t want to take the time to learn or use PhotoShop, go to Canva. It is incredibly easy. If they say you need an invite, email me and I’ll see if I can get you one.

Schedule Once – This is a free service (they have paid and free options) that allow customers to book you online. The applications here are endless. You get to decide how far in advance, your schedule, how long the appointment is, etc.  This way, you can let them book on the spot without the constant back and forth that comes with, “well when can you make it? I can’t make it then, how about this time? No, ok, what about three Tuesdays from now?” and do on. I’m using it now to book my podcast interviews. I have the free version, but I hear the paid version is really much better (free works fine).


This is a small, but basic list. What would you add? How do you make sure your online communication is clear and effective? I want to know, and so does everyone else, so leave it in the comments below!

Subscribe below and grab your FREE copy of

“How to Organize Any Presentation”

with 7 BONUS Templates

We respect your email privacy

Are you rambling?

Is your message unfocused?

Have you ever listened to a friend ramble, a boss complain, or even watched a movie and wondered…. what is the point??

Have you ever been that person who was rambling, complaining, or otherwise wasting others’ time because you didn’t have a clear idea of what exactly it was you wanted to get across?

A laser focused message is crucial when addressing a board room, speaking with your significant other, and everywhere in between. If you can’t clearly identify what it is you want the audience to know, believe or do at the end of your message, chances are, they won’t know either. There is also a pretty good chance they won’t even get to the end of your message because they won’t find it useful enough to pay attention.

Are you Rambling

Focus your message

Lucky for us, there are some ways that we can determine whether or not our message is focused, and therefore, if it will be well understood and ultimately, if it will persuade others. There are a few check points that you can use to determine if your message is clear and focused, or messy and confusing.

Clear Purpose

State the purpose of your message in one clear sentence without using the word “and”.

This is harder than it sounds. If you have a muddled message, you’ll have really tough time expressing your message in just one sentence, without making a list of things you want to discuss. However, you don’t want a list. You want a clear, declarative sentence. For example, I can tell you that the purpose of this blog post is to instruct the reader on how to check their message for clarity. If I still only had a vague idea of what I wanted to say, I might say something a little less organized and focused such as, “the purpose of this blog post is to talk about a purpose statement and properly dividing content and sticking to the purpose.” Notice the difference in the two. In both, I would have covered roughly the same material, however, in the second option, it wasn’t clear to me (the speaker or writer) nor the audience what the POINT of it all is. Rather, it was a list of main points. What your audience wants to know is, how do those main points come together for one key take-away?  

Check for Clearly Divided Content

Determine how many chunks of your message you have. It is is more than 5 for spoken word, or more than 7 for written word, you might need to revise and narrow your focus. You will receive a stronger response by focusing on just 3 or 4 aspects of a topic, rather than all. It is a common feeling to want to tell the other person every single thing there is to know about a topic. This is especially true when you are the expert, or when you are passionate about a topic, but it doesn’t serve the audience. They’ll likely come away knowing more about the topic after listening to just a few aspects rather than every one. Think about it this way, if you wanted to know about astro physics and you asked your friend who has a PhD in the subject, you wouldn’t expect that person to explain everything he or she knows about the subject, would you? It would likely take a very long time, and you wouldn’t have the concentration to experience it all in just one sitting. Instead, a better approach might be for your friend to give a brief overview, covering 3 or 4 major sub topics within astro physics and then schedule a time to dive deeper into one or more of those topics, depending on your need or interest level.

Check Details Against Purpose

The last thing to check is whether or not every piece of information fits within the scope of your purpose. For this reason, I always suggest creating an outline when delivering an important message. This is true for writing an email, a blog post, a report, a speech, or gathering your thoughts for a big conversation with your spouse. Keeping your ideas highly organized will not only help you stay focused through the course of the communication, but you’ll also have a better chance of your listener understanding the message and seeing the message from your point of view.

Check for Audience Response

Do listeners often miss the point of your message?

If you often feel that people just aren’t getting you or your message, you may not have focused the message enough. Overall, people aren’t listening to you. Your intended listeners are preoccupied with their own needs. They’re focused on getting what they want and need, not on your goal. Because of this (among other reasons), they are jumping back and forth between listening to you, and focusing on themselves. If your message is even slightly unorganized, they will fail to connect the dots. In the end, your listeners understanding and response is the best judge as to whether or not your message was efficient.

At the end of the day, you have specific goals for the messages you deliver. By taking some time to create a clear focus and keep all other information in line with that focus, you’ll keep your audience listening and have a better shot at meeting your communicative goals.


For more information about organizing a message, get the free download, How to Organize Any Presentation. It comes with 7 bonus templates.

Do you find it frustrating when people get off topic? How do you manage to stay focused? I’d love to hear in the comments below!


Three ways to increase power by networking

Let’s start with a word problem. If you have 100 people in your extended network and your friend Frank has 100 people in his extended network, who is more powerful?
In this post, we’ll take a look at three factors that create power. If you understand the components of power, you can start to build the amount of power and influence that you hold. Once you understand it, you’ll realize how simple it is to create.

For me, the word “networking” always sounded a bit too formal and insincere for my taste. However, if done right, with sincerity, the benefits go beyond making business connections. You will end up with a close group of peers that can support and encourage you.
To do this, and increase your influence along the way, focus on these three factors: ties, closeness and betweeness. (Taken from Introduction to social network methods by Robert Hannerman and Mark Riddle.) Once you understand these factors, you can begin to build on each.
Let’s start with ties.


Ties represents the number of people in your network. The greater the number of people in your network, the greater chance of having a high level of power. In part, this is because the number of people in your network influences the number of people that you might have the opportunity to bargain with. The ability to bargain, make deals and negotiate is really what represents power. It makes sense then that the more people who are in our network, the greater our chances of striking a deal. But, it goes deeper. It actually depends on the quality of people in each of your networks.
Let’s say that Frank is friends with a lot of very influential people. You? Not so much. Frank is the clear winner, right?
It is almost intuitive to believe that having more influential people in your network would give you more power. Yet, a sociologist, Philip Bonacich, proposed another possible explanation – one that many sociologists have since adopted. Bonacich explains that those who have many influential people in their network actually have less power than those who have the same number of less influential people in their network.
Let’s look back at you and Frank. Since many of Frank’s friends and peers are very influential, they also have lots of ties and, therefore, people who they can bargain with. They are not reliant on Frank for much of anything. They have too many options. Where Frank really holds some influence is over those who are not connected to other influential people. The good news for Frank is that other’s will likely send more people his way simply because he has influential friends. This is where you want to start, as it is a nice set up for the next two factors necessary to increase power. Next up, closeness.


The closer you are to others in your network, the greater the chance of having high levels of power. It isn’t simply networking that will get you power. You must go further and foster relationships with those in your network. The closer others are to you, the greater chance that others will hear your ideas. Not only can they hear your ideas, but they can find commonalities and begin to relate to you. You begin to identify with the other person, and as a result, that person likes you more.
(To learn how identifying with others can increase your influence, see Communicating your credibility to increase influence.)  

Is your network powerful?

This leads to more chances for others to hear your ideas and ultimately, put you in the position to put those ideas into practice.

In addition, the closer you are to others, the less effort you need to put forth to reach those in your network. It is simple to reach your best friends, but not always the celebrity you follow on Twitter. They are both in your network, but you are clearly closer to one over the other.
Marketers understand and use this principle all the time. At least, successful marketers do. They use these first two steps to bring potential clients into their close network in the form of an email list. Although it might appear that they rely on social media, it is really just the first step of increasing the number of ties. If you only consider the first factor of power, ties, then you might believe that someone with many followers on a social media site might have a lot of power. This isn’t necessarily the case. You must also increase your closeness. This means converting your followers so they become part of your close network and are better able to hear all those great ideas you have. If you do happen to run the marketing wherever you are, or if you are interested in marketing yourself as an expert in your field, I suggest you listen to Online Marketing Made Easy by Amy Porterfield. She does a great job of explaining how you go about converting those in your extended, social media network to leads who are in your close network (among lots and lots of other things).
Not a marketer? You can still apply this theory in your online world. Take advantage of your social network to bring people into your close, immediate network and you’ll definitely gain some power and influence. One way to do this is to lead groups that are specific to your interests or expertise. For instance, if you are a lawyer, you can start a group for other lawyers in your area. Those lawyers will become part of your close circle, and you will potentially increase your power. Back to you and your friend, Frank. If Frank’s network of 100 highly influential people are all simply acquaintances, whereas you have a group of 100 less influential people in which you have closer relationships with, you’re even further ahead. What if Frank joined your group? Would that up his game? Not enough. Leading the group, as opposed to joining the group, will set you up for the third and final step to increasing your power.


The more direct contacts you have in your network, the greater the chance of having high levels of power. This is exactly why leading is one step above joining. If you are the leader, you are directly connected to each person in your network. They entered the group through you, they know you. If you simply join the group, others are in your network, but you are possibly not directly connected to each other. You might still have one degree between you in which you rely on for the interaction.
On the other hand, if you are the person in between others connections, you hold the most power. You become the broker between deals, introductions and favors. And as you provide that value to others, you become more and more powerful within that network. You’ll create a situation in which you are invaluable to those in your network. Frank is now coming to you to find the people, advice and opportunities he needs.
Create ties. Build close relationships. Make direct contacts. These are the three steps to dramatically increasing your power and influence.

How do you build power in your network? Do you have any practical advice? I’d love to hear! Leave a comment below and I’ll respond as soon as I can. Don’t forget to share this with someone who might find it useful!

Subscribe below and grab your FREE copy of

“How to Organize Any Presentation”

with 7 BONUS Templates

We respect your email privacy

Humans are irrational – learn how to influence them anyway

Is it worth it?

This is a question you probably ask yourself daily. We weigh everything; that top shelf bottle of wine, compared to the value brand, the commute to work in exchange for the higher paying job, the newest version of your smartphone, one more bite of dessert; you name it, we’re constantly weighing in on the costs and benefits.

But do we always make the logical choice?

Way back in economics class, we all learned about supply, demand, costs and benefits. We learned that individuals make decisions based on logical and rational choices with the intent of benefitting themselves. So, if an individual is presented with the option of buying a product and that individual perceived the cost to be more than the benefit, that person wouldn’t buy that product because it costs too much.

That model is applied to many things, not just consumer behavior. We use a cost vs. benefit model in just about any decision making process, from purchasing a house to deciding on a dating partner, we think to ourselves, “is it worth it?”

However, there is one major flaw in that model. We humans are just not that rational. There is an underlying factor that has an overwhelmingly, yet virtually undetectable influence on our decisions and it affects everything from the products we buy to the value of the stock market and everything in between. That factor is mood.

Influence the irrational

Your audience is irrational, influence them anyway.

Yet, many of us continue to operate with the assumption that people are logical and that logic is the ruling factor in decisions. This can put us in danger of missing the boat on important influential moments. If you rely on others to make logical decisions, meaning, if you believe that strictly presenting facts and figures will persuade an individual, or an entire audience, to side with you, you’re going to be waiting a long time. People just don’t make decisions that way.

A few years ago, I was able to work on a project that stemmed from the idea of socionomics. If you’ve never heard this term before, it basically is just the study of how the collective mood of the society affects really big factors in our economic system – like stock prices and world leaders.  Although I had long known that emotion is key in action taking, the power of socionimics is quite surprising, with roots in the evolution of our species.

In this post, I’ll show you how your current belief system surrounding decision making is causing you to miss out on key influential moments, why this belief system is so strong yet undetectable, and how, with a little understanding, you can  take advantage of this powerful factor behind decisions.

Let’s start by understanding the danger in believing in this current system – the rational choice theory.

Why relying on rationality in others is a mistake

Rational choice theory is the theory that many scientists have used, and therefore, what we’ve been taught to use to predict what decision someone, or a group of someones, will make.  It assumes that people are logical. It assumes that if presented with two options, humans will always choose the option that benefits them the most after weighing the costs vs. the benefits.

The problem is that this model ignores emotion and gut feelings all together.   We’ve been taught to ignore the emotional aspect, as if it simply doesn’t exist. But, when it comes to actually making that decision (as opposed to making a prediction about the decision), we can’t ignore emotion and gut feeling, because often, we’re not even aware of its influence.

By ignoring this truth, that people actually do make decisions based on emotions, we are all missing out on legitimate and powerful opportunities to influence others.

How much influence does mood have on decision making?

Now, you’ve probably always known that to some extent, emotion plays a part in decision making. You’ve all seen someone make an irrational decision based on emotion alone. This is where we get sayings like, “blinded by love,” or “seeing red.” But, it isn’t just in extreme circumstances, and it isn’t just a subtle influence. Mood can influence us, without us even knowing, in even the most mundane of decisions and in a way that we don’t even notice. It is a very real, and very powerful part of our decision making process.

In fact, Soldat and Sinclair, in Social Cognition found that they could create a change in response by using emotional cues without actually changing mood. Specifically, they found that while things like colors, smiles and frowns can influence how an individual evaluates an argument, that individual is not aware of any change in their own mood. So, although your listener might acknowledge how extreme anger affects decisions and try to control for that, he or she might not notice how small changes in the environment might impact the decision process – and therefore not control for it.

Robert Prechter is a well known economist who has brought a lot of attention to this theory. He studies not only how individuals might make a decision based on feelings, but how our nation does it collectively.

As a society, we experience various moods that endure over a period of time. So, sometimes the country is sad, or prideful, or happy. Of course, not every person is the same level of happiness at the exact moment, but large numbers of us experience similarities in our mood and our shorter term emotions kind of float around that average mood. This mood is so powerful that it can even affect the entire state of our economy. Prechter found mood to affect the stock market as well as if the President will be re-elected with surprising accuracy (If you’re interested, take a look at Prechter’s 2007 article in The Journal of Behavioral Science , or for an easier read, check out the research on under “Cultural Trends”). These are major decisions that, investors and voters take seriously, attempting to weigh the costs and benefits of each side – yet mood seems to play a major role in this process. Imagine how much of a factor it is in the everyday decisions.

It is so powerful because it is rooted in our genetic makeup. Throughout human evolution, there were many times when an individual simply didn’t have the opportunity to weigh all options  and so, doing what everyone else was doing was so often a safe bet, that those who did it survived and those who didn’t, didn’t survive. Think about a group of people sitting near a river, bathing and drinking. Imagine you are facing the group when suddenly you see surprised faces before they turn to run. What do you do? Do you stay to gather the data, or do you run? Of course, we would run. The group was fearful, our ancestors became fearful, and it saved our lives.

Today, with the overwhelming amount of information presented to us daily, and the number of decisions we must make regularly, we face this dilemma at every turn. We simply have no way of collecting ever single bit of information about a decision before we are forced to make that decision. When our mind knows the information is incomplete, we must rely on another factor to fill in the gaps. That factor is our mood. The mood trigger is so powerful not only because it is ingrained in our evolution, but because it is, for the most part, a subconscious decision, therefore we have little control over the process.

Because it is difficult to recognize in ourselves, it is also somewhat unbelievable that it is so prevalent in the minds of others, which is why so many of your peers mistakenly ignore it when it comes to influencing others.

Use others’ mood to gain influence

A study published in Social Cognition in 2001 found that indicators consistent with positive mood lead individuals to process an argument less systematically, whereas those consistent with negative mood led to a more systematic process. The researchers performed two tests. In the first, two groups were presented a written argument. One group received the argument on red paper, the other on blue. The red paper is consistent with a positive feeling whereas blue is consistent with negative. Those who read the argument on the blue paper were able to elaborate on the argument and were persuaded only by strong, solid arguments. On the other hand, those who read the same argument on the red paper (the positive feelings paper) could not clearly elaborate on the argument after reading and were persuaded by both strong and weak arguments.

In the second test, the researchers used a similar set up, but rather than using colors, they used smiles and frowns. The results were the same. Those who experienced an argument in the context of positive emotion were less able to evaluate the argument based on logic alone.

Yet, neither groups reported any change in mood after reading the argument. The influencing signals were so subtle that the participants were unable to notice any change in mood. Therefore, although effective, the influence attempt was undetectable.

So, how can you use this in your every day interactions?  Like all other decisions you make regarding communication tactics, this will depend on three things; your audience, you as the speaker and the situation. By understanding these three factors, you can make decisions about the mood that you want to create for anything from daily interactions to full scale, formal presentations.

For example, if you feel that you have a very strong argument that has a very solid logical appeal , perhaps using negative mood cues can help your audience focus in on the logical appeal and ignore other factors where you might be weaker, (such as your presentation skills or any personal tensions between you and the listener). However, if your proposal is more speculative and you don’t yet have the clear data to back up your request, you might use positive mood indicators, such as smiles and bright colors, to cause the audience to rely less on a logical appeal.

Your listener’s mood is important and it influences a decision at a very instinctive level, a level which is virtually impossible for an individual to acknowledge. Use this information to your advantage to alter moods when engaging in conversation, or presenting an argument.

Do you notice that mood affects your decisions? Have you noticed it in others? How do you use mood to become influential in person and/or online? Leave your comments in the section below. I’d love to hear!

If you liked this post and want to learn even more about increasing your influence by improving your communication skills, sign up for access to exclusive content. As a bonus, you’ll receive the 23 page kit, How to Organize Any Presentation, perfect for sales webinars, videos and live presentations. It includes 7 templates for putting together any type of presentation.



How to Organize Any Presentation (Hint: Works for webinars, videos, audio only and live presentations) with BONUS download

Did you know that when it comes to speech (including webinars, videos and live presentations), the organization of your ideas is often more important than the delivery? Assuming your delivery has no major flaws (like having so many um’s and uh’s that people start to count), a highly organized speech will influence more audience members than a speaker who has excellent delivery skills, but poor organizational skills.  Unlike writing, listeners can not back up and re-hear what you said to gain clarity. You need to have all of your thoughts highly organized – just winging it will back fire every time.

After working with many people who are about to deliver a presentation, I found that many are not only under prepared, but they often don’t even realize that there is a formula for speech. This is true for live presentations, webinars, video blogs, small presentations and formal speeches. If your information is out of order, you will fail to reach your audience. It is that simple.

Having unorganized thoughts can leave you in a situation in the future where you simply are not understood, regardless of your true expertise on the subject and regardless of whether or not you are “right”. However, there are simple formulas that the best speech writers use to create presentations. They are simple and effective. They are the most simple tools of speech writing, and if you’re not using them, you’re really missing out.

So, I decided to put together this kit to break down the process of determining the organizational pattern required for any presentation. Again, this is relevant to any vocal presentation – regardless of whether it is in person or over the web.  (As a bonus, you can also view 7 templates you can use for any presentation with full explanations as to when and how to use them – enter your email to access the download.)




We’ll cover…

  1. Determining the general goal
  2. Determining the type of speech
  3. Determining the organizational pattern that corresponds with the speech

Step 1: Determine your general goal

There are three possible goals you might have for a speech. They are…

  1. To entertain
  2. To inform
  3. To persuade

Although every speech will have elements of the other two, you will need to select your over arching purpose from the list above. Here is a shortcut to understanding the types.

If you don’t need the audience to take anything away from the speech, the goal is to entertain (like an after dinner speech, or recognizing someone for an award).

If you want the audience to remember and learn from your speech, the goal is to inform (like giving someone an update on a project).

If you would like the audience to make a decision about something, or to change their mind, beliefs or actions, the goal is to persuade (like when you are asking to increase your budget or proposing a change in policy).

Here, we’ll focus on two of these goals: to inform and to persuade.


Step 2: Determine the type of speech


Once you know what your goal is, you are in a position to make a decision about the type of speech you would like to give. To do this, consider the audience. You’ll need to determine what they know and how they feel about the topic to make sure you’re not giving them trivial, common sense information. At the same time, you don’t want to provide information that is so complex they won’t understand and/or can’t apply it to their situation. A very common mistake is a speaker feeling she/he needs to give all information about a particular topic. This isn’t the case. Keep the focus just on things that further your goal.

If you are aiming for persuasion, you’ll also want to make sure that you aren’t wasting your audience’s time by arguing something they are already on board with. Otherwise, that isn’t really persuasion. Take the time to learn their current beliefs and attitudes and aim to push them one step further. Example, if they already believe there is a problem, but aren’t sure which course of action to take, you can spend your time focused on debating which policy to pursue. If your audience already knows which course of action to take, but is stuck up on a road block, spend your time motivating them to take action. Make appropriate goals and keep all information focused on furthering that goal.

Before you can set up your presentation, you need to know which category it fits into. Use this chart to determine that category.

Types of informative presentations.

Most topics can fall under any type of speech, it is all up to you. You’ll need to keep consistent with your goals. Here are your options: a speech about objects, about a process, about an event or about a concept.

Types of Informative Speeches

A speech about an object talks about things or physical objects, people, whatever you can touch or see. A process is a series of events that leads to one specific outcome. An event is something that happens in time. A concept is something that is abstract and exists in your mind. Again, just about any topic can fit into any of these types of speeches. It is all about how you want to paint the picture for your audience and what your ultimate goal is. You are in control. For instance, if your company is moving to a new location, you can talk about this topic in a few ways. You can talk about the physical building or location – the object speech. Or, you can talk about what your department must do to move from one location to the next. Or, you can talk about the move as an event, like a grand re-opening.  Or, you can discuss it as a concept if you are in the planning stages of design. It all depends on the purpose and your goals.

This sounds simple enough, but a common mistake that I mentioned earlier is to try to cover everything and consequently losing focus. So, if the purpose of the speech is to discuss the steps your department must take in order to accomplish a successful move, you won’t want to spend time discussing the physical building, unless it is directly related to a step in that process. An example I always use to show just how silly you can sound if you get off topic is this: If someone asked you how to make a grilled cheese sandwich, you wouldn’t want to start out discussing the history of the cheese. Sound silly? Yes, but think of just how many meetings you’ve attended where someone wasted 30 minutes of your time talking about the history of the cheese. I’ve witnessed a few.

For now, just keep in mind which type of speech you have as it will inform your decision about how to organize your speech in the next section.

Before you decide how to set up your presentation, webinar or sales video, first determine what your goals are.

Before you decide how to set up your presentation, webinar or sales video, first determine what your goals are.

Types of Persuasive Speeches

If your goal is to persuade (to change someone’s mind, beliefs or actions) select from the following. This is where it can get a little more confusing. The three types are:

  1. True vs. False (or, fact)
  2. Good vs. Bad (or other value)
  3. Do this (or, policy)

The “true/false” speech is referred to as a question of fact and will attempt to change someone’s mind as to whether something is true or false. Example:  We will see an increase in sales next quarter in comparison to the previous quarter. This is a question of fact because you are deciding if this will happen or not. In a few months, you can look back and say yes this was true, or no, this is false.  Select this option if you are aiming to change the way someone views a statement as being true or false, incorrect or correct.

The “good/bad” speech is referred to as a question of value and aims to change someone’s belief as to whether something is good or bad, better or worse, just or unjust, or some other value. This deals with morals, but also can deal with any priority setting. For example: Customer service is our most valuable asset. It is a question of value because you are assigning importance, or value. Select this option if you want to change the way your audience prioritizes something.

A “Do this” speech is referred to as a question of policy and addresses a change in behavior. This is the only type of speech that addresses a behavioral change. (If you are selling something, you must select this type of speech). This is used if you either want to gain support for a new policy (passive), or if you want an individual to do something themselves (active). An example: We should allocate more money to our marketing department (passive if not speaking to decision makers) or: Buy this product (active when speaking to decision makers). Use a policy speech every time you want your audience to do something that they wouldn’t normally do otherwise.

Now that you have a goal and a type of speech, you can finally select an organizational pattern.

Step 3: Determine the organizational pattern

The most common mistake I see when selecting an organizational pattern is doing these steps out of order. You can’t possibly decide you’ll have a “topical speech” for example, if you don’t even know what type of speech you are doing or what your goals are. I have witnessed this in brainstorming sessions and in edits of speeches I edit. People too often start with the details they want to include without having a grasp on the big picture. Set your goals first. Only then can you determine how to reach those goals. If you jump ahead to this step, you will have a difficult time making the information fit together in a logical way. Let’s break down the options, depending on the answers to the questions above. We’ll start with informative speeches.

If your goal is to present information about a person or object, you may select topical, chronological, spatial or cause and effect. If your goal is to teach someone how to accomplish a process (a how to), you may select chronological or topical. If your goal is to tell someone about an event, past or future, you may select topical, chronological, spatial or cause and effect. If your goal is to tell someone about a concept, or something that exists only in your mind or is very abstract in another way, you may select topical or chronological. However, most of the time, it will make sense to select topical for a concept speech.

There are specific ways to organize a speech when your goal is to teach. Read on to learn how.

How to organize an informative speech.

Let’s go through each type of organizational pattern. (Remember too, the bonus templates are available).

The topical speech breaks down the purpose by sub-topics. Each are equal and comparable to one another. For example, if your goal is to discuss accomplishments your department made, you will make each main point an accomplishment because they are equal and comparable sub topics. Don’t try to mix other elements into the presentation. The chronological is in time order (limit 2-5 main points). The most common mistake here is trying to talk about every detail, or feeling you need to start from the beginning of time. Like all other presentations, you’ll need to have focus. Start at a relevant part for your audience and break the time frames into 2-5 manageable chunks. This will make it much easier for your audience to remember the focus and maintain interest. The spatial pattern discusses locations in space. Select this if you are discussing how object are related to each other based on their physical location. So, you could talk about something top to bottom, or left to right, or north to south. Cause and effect discusses what event led to another.  You’ll always have two main points in this pattern. Example: “Sales increased this quarter due to our newest product line.” You could break this down into two main points. First, the effect (sales increased), then the cause (new product).

Depending on your main goals, you will select a pattern that makes sense. Keep in mind to select only one pattern, don’t mix. Otherwise, you’ll sound off topic and you risk losing your audience.  For example, if you were discussing the reason sales increased last quarter, you wouldn’t want to start with the history of the new product. It isn’t relevant. If you stay on topic, your audience will become more involved and you will hold their interest.

There are specific ways to organize persuasive presentations (such as for sales webinars, videos, or live presentations).

These formulas are great for sales webinars, videos or live presentations.

For the persuasive speech, it gets a little more complicated and more structured. For the true vs. false speech, you’ll usually stick to a topical pattern. You have two options. The first option is to simply list reasons the statement you are debating is true or false. The second option is to structure it in three main points. The first, state what is now observed. The second, state how this observation came about. Third, state how this information should lead to a change in beliefs (see the bonus templates for more detail).

For the good vs. bad, you’ll use topical. However, this is a bit more structured. You always use the first main point to establish your value standards and your second to apply those standards to your topic. For instance, if you were convincing your audience that customer satisfaction should be your highest priority, you would first discuss your company’s values, then apply customer satisfaction to those values in your second main point.

For the “Do this” speech, you’ll avoid the topical and chronological speeches. Instead, opt for either problem-solution, problem-cause-solution, comparative advantage or motivated sequence. An explanation of each is found within the template that is provided, but let’s quickly discuss motivated sequence.

The motivated sequence is great for sales. It brings the audience through an emotional roller coaster with the intent of convincing them to take immediate action. The presentation starts by focusing on what the audience is missing out on and capitalizes on negative emotions and feelings of loss. Then, it slowly moves to a feeling of satisfaction, provides benefits to the audience and ends with a strong call to action. It is important to note that this pattern is extremely effective when asking the audience to take action immediately as opposed to in the future. Use this if you are in sales and you’ll improve your conversion rate without a problem (perfect for sale webinars).

And there you have it. You’ve selected the organizational pattern for your speech. By doing this, you will quickly form the layout of any speech. You can now quickly and easily “fill in the blank” to create the speech that is custom for the audience, speaker and occasion and come across as highly organized while still appearing original and creative.

Bonus: Reminder: if you want instant access to “How to organize any presentation + 7 templates for creating the perfect presentation” for free, enter your email and I’ll send it over right away. The kit is 23 pages and explains how to use each template.

Sign up to receive the kit.


1 9 10 11