In December 1996, Harvard anatomist Jill Bolte Taylor suffered a massive hemorrhage—a stroke—in the left hemisphere of her brain. In her TED talk, Dr. Taylor discusses how "cool" she thought it was that a brain scientist such as herself could study a brain injury from the inside out.
The nature of her stroke itself was responsible for this oddly detached response to the life-threatening emergency occurring inside her own head. Yet that isn't the only fascinating part of the story as detailed by Dr. Taylor. (To engage and inspire your own audiences, download my free cheat sheet, "5 Ways to Captivate an Audience.")
Your Two Brains and Public Speaking
Among the more memorable parts of this talk is the speaker's discussion of the different characteristics of the left and right hemispheres of the brain. I've watched this talk many times; but it was only in reviewing it recently with a client that I was struck by how Dr. Taylor's description of the nature of the two brain hemispheres corresponded precisely with what I've been teaching about public speaking performance for years.
As an actor, I've always been focused on how critical performance skills are to successful public speaking. In a sense, content is the easiest area for most speakers, since most people know the topic they're discussing. At the same time, these speakers typically spend almost all of their preparation on putting together content, believing that the delivery of information is their primary purpose.
The truth is very different however. The creation of influence is the real holy grail of speaking. And along with content, true influence—the ability to move an audience—depends upon skills of performance. It was Dr. Taylor's discussion of the two brain hemispheres or cortices than made me realize how much effective public speaking depends upon the right side of the brain.
"Step to the Right of Your Left Hemisphere"
Body language, use of space, the physical relationship of speaker to audience, and the need to be fully present or mindful, are all areas I speak about regularly to clients and trainees. The Genard Method that I developed, in fact, includes approaches and techniques focused on key techniques of effective body language. Listen, then, to how closely these things are tied to the right cortex's functioning and purpose as explained by Dr. Taylor:
"Our right hemisphere is all about this present moment. It thinks in pictures, and it learns kinesthetically through the movement of our bodies. Information streams in through all of our sensory systems, and then it explodes into this enormous collage of what this present moment looks like [and] . . . feels like. I am an energy being, connected to the energy all around me through the consciousness of my right hemisphere. We are energy beings connected to one another through the consciousness of our right hemispheres as one human family."
This explanation makes it easy to understand, doesn't it, how awareness of physical space and the shared present moment can make a presentation exciting? Contrast that to a dry delivery of information through notes or PowerPoint, and you'll begin to understand the importance of the non-linear, feeling-and-emotive part of the brain.
The need to embody this non-intellectual approach to public speaking is beautifully summed up by this speaker's description of people who purposefully choose to "step to the right of their left hemispheres."
Wouldn't you like to occupy the space where that will bring both you and your listeners?
Watch Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor's TED talk, "Stroke of Insight" here:
Key takeaways from this blog:
- Effective performance skills matter as much as content to presentations.
- Your body language and use of space help you to move an audience.
- Your brain's right hemisphere helps connect you to others when you speak.
- Part of your job as a speaker is to be exciting, not just deliver information.
- You need to embody a non-intellectual approach as part of your skill-set.