Classical Conditioning: The psychology behind your presentations

The reason why we have presentations is to educate and convince our audiences to embrace and identify with our ideas.

Classical conditioning is a theory most notably associated with the behaviorist, Ivan Pavlov, which describes how we can learn a new behavior via the process of association. His experiments on salivation in dogs by pairing the sound of a bell with receiving food have applications that extend far beyond those that you might think. Classical Conditioning is a potent and powerful form of associative learning that can be applied to all of your presentations moving forward.

Understanding the role of classical conditioning in presentations

Understanding the power of classical conditioning and how it can influence the impact of your presentation is the basis of delivering an intelligent and memorable presentation.

As a speaker, your role is to get your audience into the right mood to listen to you. Depending on the type of presentation you are delivering, the emotion you want to elicit will differ. For instance, if you are delivering a presentation for a charity and want to entice people to donate, you will want your audience to feel empathy. This may mean the focus of your presentation will be on helping them to feel saddened by the images you show them. Alternatively, if you want them to buy your product, you will want them to feel happy and joyful.

Once they are in this state, the theory of classical conditioning explains that they will start pairing these emotions with what you are telling them in your presentation. So when they see an advertisement of your product in the days after your presentation, they will instantly be brought back into that state of happiness they felt throughout your presentation.

Spend time prior to presenting to think about what emotion you want your audience to feel. This will help you come up with the best strategy for evoking the right responses that will strengthen your audiences connection with your message.

External Variables that will affect your audience’s uptake of your message.

Whilst you can convey a lot of emotion through the structure and delivery of your presentation, there are a number of subtle external variables that you should also consider.

The first few minutes of your stage presence will set the mood for the remainder of the presentation. So, as well as having beautiful engaging slides, you may wish to consider the venue that you are presenting these slides in. Is it clean, comfortable and quiet so your audience is capable of giving you their full attention without being distracted?

What is the lighting like at the venue? Is it dimmed so that your audience is feeling calm? Or is it, perhaps, really bright to suit the emotions of happiness that you are trying to elicit? Try to make this a consideration in your next presentation as this will certainly affect the state of mind your audience is in when they are receiving your message.

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