Use emotion like Frank Warren

Watch this 11 minute video. I dare you not to feel anything.

You can’t help it. It’s visceral. In just 11 minutes Frank Warren gets you to feel fear, insecurity, esteem, thrill, surprise, sadness, love, loneliness, joy, envy and excitement. And in doing so, gets you to think differently about our common humanity. How the heck did he do that?

Communicating is a contact sport – you have to connect with your listeners to impact them. Frank did this phenomenally well. We could talk about this video forever. Here are just a few of the things we can learn:

He connects through content

  • Bookend the message with your point of view: Early on, he says, “Secrets can take many forms — they can be shocking, or silly, or soulful. They can connect us with our deepest humanity or with people we’ll never meet, or may never meet again.” He ends with this same phrase. It’s the one thing he wants you to remember, the big idea in how he wants you to change how you think/act about common humanity.
  • Share the stories behind the widgets: Seven years at PostSecret has provided Frank 500,000 postcards to choose from. Five hundred thousand! He could have gushed for days (literally). Instead he chooses a small handful of postcards and brings them to life by weaving concrete details of each.
  • Create peaks and valleys of emotion: Instead of stacking a bunch of funny postcards in a row, then switching to serious ones, he narrates the audience on a journey of emotions. Watch how he alternates between fear and surprise, between joy and sadness.
  • Show, don’t tell – especially the stats. We’d all love to be able to tell a data-driven story like Hans Rosling. Most people can’t do that and would instead default to flinging numbers at the audience: 500,000 postcards over the span of 7 years, an average of 71,428.57 cards per year. Not Frank. He shows the stack of all the postcards, with his wife having to stretch to add more to the pile.

He connects through delivery

  • Consistent message: His delivery matches the tone of his content. When the postcard is serious, his voice drops. When something is funny? He gives the audience permission to laugh by modeling the behavior himself.
  • Pauses for emphasis: Frank allows five silent seconds for the audience to read a postcard referencing 9/11, and four more when he shows a postcard containing an unused suicide note. He regularly pauses 2-3 seconds between slides. Remember: it’s okay to pause. No one is going anywhere.
  • He knows when to read and when to let the audience read. It’s okay (and, in fact, preferred) to read quotes in order to get them right. But my favorite bit of his delivery comes when he presents his funniest postcard, from a barista at Starbucks. Rather than read it to the audience (which would have killed the joke), he allows them to read without his narration: “I give decaf to customers who are rude to me!”

We’d be remiss if we didn’t also take note of where he applies the biggest communication secret of all: use emotion. Logic makes you think. Emotion makes you act. Speeches need not rely on Lifetime-inspired waterworks but if you can move your audience to feeling happy, sad, nostalgic or entertained, you’re probably doing something right.