The emotion of nature and the nature of emotion

Research by the BBC and the University of California Berkeley has found that watching nature documentaries makes people feel happy, while it reduces stress and anxiety. Overall, a majority of 7500 participants from the US, UK, Singapore, India, South Africa and Australia experienced significant increases in positive emotions including awe, joy, curiosity, contentment, enthusiasm, and amusement. The study also found a substantial decrease in emotions such as nervousness, anxiety, fear, stress, and tiredness.

In a BBC media release about the study, Prof. Dacher Keltner of UC Berkeley commented:

The shifts in emotion demonstrated in the BBC study as a result of watching this powerful natural history [Planet Earth II] series are significant as we know that wonder and contentment are the foundations of human happinessIf people experience feelings of awe, they are more likely to display empathetic and charitable behaviours and have been shown to be better able to handle stress.”

Reading this article about the positive influence of natural images on humans made me think of one of my all-time favorite movie scenes: the euthanasia of Sol Roth in Richard Fleischer’s 1973 science-fiction film Soylent Green.

The movie plays in a starving New York City of the future (well, if you still can call 2022 “the future” …) that’s severely suffering from overpopulation, environmental pollution, and global warming. With the help of elderly academic, Solomon “Sol” Roth (played by Edward G. Robinson in his final role), NYPD detective Robert Thorn (played by Charlton Heston) investigates the murder of an executive at Soylent Corporation, the company that manufactures the high-energy Soylent Green food rations.

At the film’s conclusion, we see Sol Roth in one of New York’s euthanasia centers. He’s put to rest (aka “going home”) with orange-hued lighting, classical music (Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique” symphony No. 6, Beethoven’s “Pastoral” symphony No. 6, and Grieg’s Peer Gynt), and a video projection with wild flora and fauna. And then, Sol reveals Soylent Green’s major secret: [spoiler alert!] the nutritious green wafers are made from human remains, before choosing assisted suicide with a lethal drug.

The fact that I consider this one of my favorite movie scenes, is not because of the actors’ performance – there’s little dialog or action in this specific scene – but because of the emotion that’s concentrated in these less than five minutes of video. With color, music, and nature images acting as amplifiers.

Maybe the above content can look a bit exotic for a post on a blog that’s labeled “business storytelling,” but I decided to share the article and the video clip as they show the power of emotion in fiction, non-fiction and science-fiction. Same is true in everyday life and business. I truly enjoyed every single episode of Planet Earth II. And, isn’t there a bit of Sol Roth in each of us?

Look ‘n’ feel matter – images

There’s this old wisdom that says “a picture tells more than a thousand words”, but incidentally some images in PowerPoint presentations tell nothing at all. They’re just there because they’re pictures. They don’t add anything to the content, and they also don’t add anything to the aesthetics of the visual — sometimes they even do the opposite, and just make the slide look ugly.

In the previous posts of this “look ‘n’ feel matter” series I have touched upon fonts and color. Today I am giving a few practical tips to get more out of the clip art and photos you add to your presentation:

  • First of all, it’s a mistake thinking that all images have to be functional elements, such as data charts, product pictures or organograms. There’s nothing wrong with adding some eye candy to your slides, and appeal to your audience’s emotion.
  • Of course, you’d better pick some images that are related to the topic you’re presenting about and that enhance or clarify the content. It’s a bit awkward to show a beautiful photo of a sunset on a tropical island, when you’re presenting your company’s air suspension compressors portfolio.
  • In any case, avoid using standard clip art that comes with your presentation software. Most of the people in the room will get a déjà vu feeling when you show them a man climbing a bar chart, a colorful dollar sign, or yet another one of Microsoft’s stale screen beans. There are ample places on the internet where you can buy or borrow high quality and original images.
  • When your picture is too big, scale it down or crop it to fit (and compress it afterwards – if you don’t want the size of your file to grow explosively.) But when it’s too small, don’t try to enlarge it! You will blow up the pixels and end up with something blurry and unprofessional (tip: you may always try to use a reverse image search tool like TinEye or src-img to find a similar bitmap with a better resolution.) If you don’t want to change an object’s dimensions, keep the shift key down while resizing it. Otherwise, you may end up with some unwanted results. Just have a look at the picture below, and guess the real Elvis duck…


  • And, finally: don’t feed the chameleons! Try to be consistent in style and colors. Avoid mixing photos and line art (of course you may insert charts and diagrams whenever they’re needed.) Though black-and-white photographs and color highlights make a great combination.

A few words about copyrighted material: always make sure that you have permission to use the images. Looking for media made available under a Creative Commons license is probably the most safe and legal way to go. When searching on Google, you may set a filter on usage rights in the Image Advanced Search function.

Next week, I will talk about using bulleted lists in your presentations.

Other articles about this topic that are worth reading:

Look ‘n’ feel matter – color

Color is a powerful means for presenting information. The tints you choose and the way you use them can have a strong impact on your audience. They may have special meanings in certain cultures (read e.g. the example in an earlier post about the use of red and green on the Japan stock exchange), and even have an emotional appeal (as indexed by Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions.)

Emotion and perception. That’s the reason why marketers carefully pick ‘appropriate’ color schemes for their collateral and websites. Did you know that Google apparently tested 41 shades of blue to maximize the click-through rate on hyperlinks?

  • Red is a strong color, with both positive and negative meaning: love, energy, danger, … You can use it to emphasize your messages, but sometimes you better avoid it because of its negative connotation. Also note that red text is often poorly readable, both on a light and a dark background.
  • Blue expresses trust, confidence and loyalty. So it’s a perfect background or foreground for business presentations. At least if you don’t mind coming over as conservative  ̶ which is unfortunately also a synonym for boring.
  • Green represents health, nature and novelty. An ideal tint when you want to talk about the eco-friendliness of your products or the sustainability of your business.
  • Yellow stands for logic and intelligence, but also for caution and cowardice. Unless you put it on a dark background, don’t use yellow fonts.
  • Purple means creativity and innovation. That’s why e.g. Alcatel-Lucent, the company I work with, has chosen it in their logo.
  • Black is most commonly associated with power and elegance. It’s a good and neutral color for your presentations. One caution about using a black (or any other dark) background: it may cost you a lot of ink when printing out handouts of your slides.
  • White, although the opposite of black, is also a neutral shade. Personally, I prefer to work on a white background as it gives my slides a clean look, creates a feeling of open space, and combines perfectly with any other color.

Don’t feed the chameleons! Use colors vividly but wisely. Don’t mix too many of them on one single slide, and avoid improper combinations like red/green (can’t be distinguished by certain color blind people) or orange/blue (seem to vibrate against one another).


“Thrift Store Landscape With a Color Test” by Chad Wys
(paint on found print and frame, 2009)

Earlier in this post, I mentioned Plutchik’s wheel. A color wheel also helps you to understand the relationships between colors. When using colors it’s always good know the theory of primary (red, blue, and yellow), secondary (green, violet, and orange) and tertiary colors (made from combinations of then former six) and know which combinations work and which don’t. If you need some advice, there are a few great tools on the web like ColorBlender or Color Scheme Designer.

As a final note, many of the statements I made above about the use of colors in presentations are also valid for a presenter’s attire. Colors don’t make the man (or the woman), but poor choices can spoil your appearance, take away attention from your message, or even give another meaning to the things you tell.

Next week, I will talk about using images in your presentations.

Other articles about this topic that are worth reading:

The good life

 “In the information society in the last century the best product was winning, this century the best story is winning.”  – Rolf Jensen

Rolf Jensen is the former CEO of the Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies, one of the world’s leading futurist think tanks.

In his book “The Dream Society” (2001) Jensen wrote about a farm in Denmark that is selling eggs at 75 cents each. That’s actually quite expensive for an egg, even in Denmark. Particularly since egg buyers have to walk down the yard to a cozy henhouse, and collect the eggs by themselves. And in case the hen is still sitting on it, they have to ask her politely to get up… Many of the consumers even want to know name of the chicken that laid the egg they will eat the next morning.


This is once again a great example of the power of a good story. It helps the farmer to sell his eggs for 75 cents instead of the usual 25. The investment he made in creating and presenting a story about the Good Life is probably close to zero, but its RoI is pretty huge –a premium of 200% above the average price is not a bad result at all.

By drawing his customers into the roost and making them part of this rural story, the poultryman is appealing to their emotion (“happy chickens must lay delicious eggs!”) instead of to their ratio (“why should I pay the triple of the market price for the same product?”)

Most of the people don’t even come –and pay– for the product, but rather for the experience. And they will probably take the story home with them, come back for more and bring their friends.

As I mentioned in one of my older blog posts about what business presenters can learn from B2C marketers: decision making is often emotion-based and value is in the eyes of the beholder. 

Five lessons from B2C

It is often assumed that B2B and B2C are two different worlds. This is based upon the observation that people who buy goods for themselves are acting in a different way than people who purchase products or services for their company. Hence, marketing and sales people need a different skill mix.

This is (at least partly) true – but there’s also a lot that B2B storytellers can learn from their B2C peers…

  1. Segment your audience. There’s no one-size-fits-all presentation pitch that will suit all possible listeners. You won’t sell the same products to a 76 and a 16 year-old consumer. Neither can you charm an engineer and a company purchaser with exactly the same value proposition.
    Always make sure you know your target audience and its needs before you start preparing your story and your visuals.
  2. The one you address is not always the one who buys. There are many examples in B2C marketing, such as selling mobile minutes to teenagers (Dad pays…) or advertising the unique features of a car (Mom decides…).
    The most attentive listeners (or the most active question askers) in the room are often not always the ones who own the budget. Try to identify upfront who has the real decision power and draw a power-map of your audience.
  1. Decision making is often emotion-based. Another misconception is that business people behave rationally and pragmatic, and that –unlike consumers, who (sometimes) tend to make buying decisions based upon impulse, emotion, or even the love for a certain brand– they (always) go for the highest-tech or lowest-price proposition. Quoting Seth Godin’s blog: some of them “might be willing to look at the specs, but they really don’t understand them enough to care.
    A 2012 Upshot study shows the role and the value of emotion in B2B marketing. You can influence decision-making by creating an emotional connection with your audience. Use inspiring visuals, stories, anecdotes and real-life examples… it can make a difference.
  2. Value is in the eyes of the beholder. Two persons may have a completely different perception about the ‘value’ of a hamburger menu or a Michelin-rated restaurant. It’s not always the price/quality ratio that makes the difference.
    De gustibus et coloribus non est disputandum (there’s no arguing about tastes and colors). Know and understand the WIIFM for your audience members and try to fit your value proposition to their expectations.
  1. The medium supports the message.  Consumer marketers use repetition and imagery to capture the public’s attention, create interest for their products and reinforce their brands.
    In your business presentations, apply pause-and-repeat techniques and frequently summarize your key points. And in this era of transmedia storytelling, don’t stick to static imagery: use sound bites, video clips and live demonstrations to add pizzazz to your message.

So, next time you present to a group of business people, take a step back and think of them as a collection of everyday consumers. You may get some surprisingly positive reactions…

A body has no true ideals

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

A famous quote by Maya Angelou, American author and civil rights activist.  This is great material to use in blogs and training material on presentation skills… but it is actually a true statement too. Let me to give an example from my personal experience.

Long time ago, I was studying Computer Science at the university. One of the courses I took was titled “Higher Algebra”, and to be honest –though I am not very proud of it– there aren’t a lot of professor Cnop’s words or deeds I remember after all those years. Actually, the only thing that’s left in my mind from almost 30 hours of Algebra class is the feeling of amazement I got when the man in front boldly stated that “a body has no true ideals.”

Note that the above is a literal translation from Dutch (“een lichaam heeft geen echte idealen”) and in real math-English it would rather sound like “a field has no ideals except {0} and itself” –which would ruthlessly spoil the pitch of my story… Digging further into the topic on Wikipedia, I learned that “a body” (a.k.a. “a field”) is a “commutative ring where every non-zero element is invertible” and that “an ideal” is a special subset of such a ring. Unfortunately this also did not ring a bell…

Q.E.D.  People remember how you made them feel. It pays off to add emotion, humor and anecdotes to even the most serious (business) presentation. Do you know a more serious topic than algebra?

And, for me today, it’s still good to know that a body has no true ideals, and that I should not worry too much about developing wrinkles or losing my hair.