How is emotional manipulation a bad thing?

By Laura Bergells on
Laura Bergells teaches

For a public speaking exercise, I ask students to tell a 2-3 minute story in front of the class. I also hand out a stack of simple evaluation sheets to the class — students anonymously rate the speaker’s storytelling skills, vocal skills, body language, and story value from 1-5. I also leave a brief space for written comments.

In one class session, a particular student was a clear standout. Her showmanship was exceptional and she delivered a remarkable performance. She received straight 5’s across the board and a number of enthusiastic and positive comments in her evaluations.

A week later, I asked the class who they thought gave the best presentation. They actually answered in unison — there was no question who delivered the over-the-top knockout performance.

“Great.” I said. “Now, what was her story was about?”

The class fell silent. Seven days later, and no one in class remembered the actual content of the story!

How many times has this happened to you? You see or hear a terrific act (or read a phenomenal book or see a fantastic theatrical performance) — but when someone asks you, “Well? What was it about?” — you mutter something like, “Well, it’s hard to explain. You really had to be there.”

The showmanship upstaged the story.

The razzle-dazzle of the presentation took over the message.

It happens quite a bit. A talented performer, presenter, or artist can actually trick the audience into believing that they understand more than they actually know!

Good showmanship is a form of flattery. When you make your audience feel smarter or better than they actually are, they’re going to like you more. You’re not just selling your audience on an idea, you’re simultaneously selling them the idea that they’re smarter, better, cooler people for paying attention to you.

Is showmanship emotionally manipulative? Yes. Without question.

But how is it a bad thing?