Neuro-biz-ology: Re-energize a Room

If you’ve done a lot of public speaking or led a lot of meetings then you know there is nothing harder than speaking to a room of unenergetic people. Minute by minute you can almost FEEL the energy being sapped out of you. No matter how upbeat the message may be, it’s really hard to maintain your energy in that environment.

Have you ever wondered why that is?

It’s a little something called mirror neurons.

What are Mirror Neurons?

Mirror neurons are slightly contentious in the scientific world, but regardless of what they are called, there is no doubt that the mechanism exists.

The principle behind mirror neurons is that when we look at someone else, we can’t help but mirror, or mimic, them – at least to a small degree. When we look at someone else the neurons in our brain fire as if it is actually us doing the behavior being observed. This mechanism was discovered by accident when studying monkeys – a researcher had electrodes on a monkey, went to grab a bite of food on a break, and the electrodes on the monkey picked up a whole set of neuronal activity as if it was the monkey that was actually eating the food.

So, it’s mirror neurons at work when you see an intense conversation, or two people that are really connected talking – they will match vocal tone and body position. It’s not even intentional, it’s our mirror neurons taking over.

And, as you can imagine, this mechanism plays a strong role in empathy. If our brain is activating as if we were that person, we’re going to feel, to a certain extent, what they are feeling.

How to Use Mirror Neurons to our Advantage

Mirror neurons are basically reflexive – we don’t really have control over them. That means that whoever you are interacting with responds to your mirror neurons the same way you respond to theirs.

So, if you are trying to change the tone of the room, you need to win the invisible battle of mirror neurons. Quite simply, you need to project the emotion and attitude you want the room to take on, regardless of what everyone else is doing.

As a presenter or meeting facilitator: Put a big smile on your face, be calm, and project as much energy as you possibly can. Search the room for some friendly faces who are projecting back to you that same energy you want to exude. By keying in on those people you can create a positive feedback loop of sorts and ideally bring the rest of the room with you.

As an audience member or attendee: Speaking to a room of blank faces is one of the hardest things in the world, so by putting a smile on your face and listening and nodding along is one of THE most helpful things you can for the person speaking. I’ve even had speakers come up to me after a talk in a room of hundreds of people, and tell me they anchored off of my smiling face.

Fake It ‘Till You Make It

You can, to a certain extent, replicate the effects of mirror neurons by consciously loosely mimicking someone. By matching their tone, volume, energy level and body position you can more quickly create rapport with someone because of the empathy component. If they sense, through your similar body language, that you have common ground, you are more likely to quickly build rapport.

The mimicry game is hard to play, however. You can’t be too overt, or it looks contrived and fake, which will do the exact opposite of what you want – drive the person away. But, if quickly creating empathy and building rapport is critical in a situation, start by immediately matching voice and tone, and then let the mirror neurons take over from there. It will create a more genuine interaction.

Have you already been using mirror neurons to your advantage (but maybe didn’t know what they were)? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.

Photo credit: poptech

About Jen Waak

Jen Waak is a health, wellness, and fitness coach that works with entrepreneurs and other crazy-busy professionals to help them have the bodies they want without having to give up their lives. Also the author of the Keyboard Athletes Guide to Pain Relief & Prevention, Jen lives, trains, and coaches in Seattle, WA. Sign up for her no-cost course How to Have the Body You Want (Without Giving Up Your Life) at