As I write this sentence, the soundtrack from the movie, Rudy, is playing in the background. It always inspires me. By the next paragraph I might hear my favorite film score, Gladiator. The last song, “Now we are free”, gets me every time. I know it’s only a movie, but I want Russell Crowe to be reunited with his family. Thanks to streaming services like Pandora, I get to hear endless scores from composers such as Hans Zimmer, John Williams or James Horner.
All great presentations begin with writing. Most people don’t open a PowerPoint and randomly insert photos or type out bullet points. They think about how they want to articulate their ideas, what they want to say and how they want to say it. A great presentation should build like a great movie — tension, conflict, and a rousing ending.
Since a great presentation tells a story, why not listen to a style of music that complements great stories on the big screen? Speechwriters and neuroscientists have weighed in on the topic.
Ronald Reagan’s speechwriter, Peggy Noonan, is a fan of listening to film scores as background music. In her article titled, Music in the Key of America, Noonan talks about the scores that remind her of America and its values. Noonan says Leonard Bernstein’s score for On the Waterfrontis “dramatic, crashing, tender…it reminds me of the importance of everyday human endeavor — that even if you think you’re just a beat-up nobody, a former contender with a one-way ticket to Palookaville, you can find within yourself a nobility you never guessed was there.” That’s a lot of insight from a piece of music.
One of my daughters plays piano. We sat down together recently to watch a new documentary about film scores aptly titled, Score. In the documentary, psychology professor, Dr. Siu-Lan Tan, says movie soundtracks trigger many structures of the brain simultaneously. Melody and pitch are processed by one system in the brain, tempo and rhythm are processed in other parts of the brain. She says certain kinds of music trigger neurochemicals in the reward centers of the brain—the ventral striatum and nucleus accumbens. In non-scientific language, the music makes you feel good.
Movie music can evoke a range of emotions. It can make you cry (Schindler’s List) run into battle (Braveheart) or just run (Rocky). Film scores and public speaking sometimes combine to make magic. In Score,composer Trevor Rabin recalls the night Barack Obama accepted the democratic party’s nomination in Chicago. His score from Remember the Titans was blaring in the background, which you can see here on YouTube. The video is from CNN, but its like a movie. If you watch the reaction of the crowd and listen to the music, there’s no question that the two — music and emotion — are connected. “If it gives me goose bumps, there’s a pretty likely chance it will give other people goose bumps,” Rabin said.
Film scores drive the narrative. Movies wouldn’t be the same without them. Perhaps listening to scores will infuse your next presentation with a little movie magic. It’s worth a try. The worst that can happen is you’ll feel like taking on the world.