Research has consistently proven that people make decisions on emotion and then justify them with fact. Although we may like to think of ourselves, first and foremost, as rational, cognitive human beings, the research data says otherwise.
We’re Not Rational
This fact of life applies equally to everyone, including lawyers, investors, and executives. The primacy of emotion and instinct in decision making is reflected in everyday business decisions. People decide to work with, or invest in, people they like or have a good feeling about but will point to the person’s experience and qualifications as being the real reason for doing so.
People will buy from salespeople they like but then explain to family and friends that they really did need the purple Post-it storage box they just bought.
This isn’t to say that non-emotional factors such as experience, qualifications, market size, or financial projections are irrelevant to the ultimate decision-making process. They are indeed relevant and important, just secondary.
Secondary in the sense that if you don’t trigger the correct emotional responses in your audience, then even a strong business proposal, justified by hard data and numbers, will find itself pushing at a closed door.
Getting Past the Gatekeeper
Although many people are aware of the different roles of the left and right sides of the brain, few understand the differing roles of the reptilian brain and the new brain, which is the cerebral cortex. The reptilian brain is estimated to be between 300 million and 500 million years old, whereas the new brain is only 3 million to 4 million years old.
The primitive reptilian brain is where our emotions exist and is irrational and unreasoning. Its main purpose is our survival. By contrast, the new brain is the source of decision making and language. For the purposes of communicating and pitching, it’s critical to understand that our message is filtered by the reptilian brain gatekeeper before it is deemed suitable for consideration by the recipient’s new brain.
In How the Brain Works, Leslie A. Hart wrote,
“Much evidence now indicates that the limbic area is the main switch in determining what sensory inputs will go the Neocortex and what decisions will be accepted from it.”
What This Means for Your Pitch
The implications of the scientific research on how we process information and make decisions are significant for pitching. Put simply, if you do not send the right messages to your audience’s reptilian brain at the earliest opportunity and continue to do so throughout your pitch, your chances of success are low.
No matter how big your market or how solid your track record and financials, if you do not obtain reptilian brain approval, your message will not receive proper scrutiny by your audience’s analytical brains.
The findings from the various scientific studies are consistent with my own experience and observations of thousands pitches and court trials. It’s always been clear to me that irrational factors played an important part in the decision-making process, but it was only when I became familiar with the scientific research that I understood why.
People cannot run emotion and logic at the same time. This means that when you construct and deliver your pitch, focus on ensuring you achieve favorable power dynamics (for more on this topic see chapter 1 of ‘Here’s the Pitch’) and inspire and engage your audience so that you keep them in the emotion zone. Keep their reptilian brains happy and you’re infinitely more likely to succeed in your pitch.
Image Credit: CC by Freddie Alequin