3 brain myths speakers and teachers should never crack


Source: Photo by Anna Shvets via Pexels

I frequently encounter several misunderstandings about the brain which lead, no doubt, to less effective presentations. So if you are using these constructs for thinking and preparing for your speeches, it is time to upgrade your mental software. (And, by the way, the computer metaphor for the brain also has limited use.)

You only use 10% of your brain. As soon as you start studying the brain imagery available today, you realize that this old notion may not be true. The brain is working all the time, lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree, and it all works hard. You use 90% of your brain most of the time, during waking hours, and that’s a good thing. It’s heartwarming to know that it’s not just sitting around doing nothing while you try to remember the name of that actor who starred in – what was the title of that movie?

Why is this myth a problem for presentations? I’ve seen it used as an excuse to wrap a ton of information in a speech, to get 200 slides past the eyes of dazed viewers in 20 minutes, like “some of that will stick!” In fact, gathering information through a verbal presentation is hard work, and it is up to the speaker to make his speech as simple and clear as possible. You should be able to summarize the message in one complete sentence, using facts and statistics sparingly. Tell stories, touch audiences with emotion, and keep the message direct and simple. It will take 90% of your audience’s brain, and probably most of yours too.

You need to address all of your audience’s learning styles. The story goes here that people tend to have a dominant learning style, whether it’s kinesthetic, auditory, or visual, and to be effective you need to address each of these learning styles in your speech. So include slides for visual learners, noises for auditory learners, and sensitive movements or stuff for kinesthetic learners.

Not true. There is no evidence that we specialize in learning styles. We all learn the three ways. At some point, if there is something that changes in our visual fields, we can use a good part of our brain to process visual information, but it is not a learning style, it is the brain that works to keep us alive and safe. Thus, visual activity tends to dominate, but the other senses are also important. The senses, not the learning styles. You don’t have to bow to your visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners!

We either have a left brain or a right brain and need to be treated accordingly. This early myth about the brain came from studies that seemed to separate logic and emotion, but this separation has always been arbitrary and not based on evidence. And, as we learned more about the brain, we learned that it works through memory and emotions. The brain works hard to analyze the immediate future, look for danger patterns, and take preparatory avoidance actions when necessary. It’s all about avoiding pain, and we know what causes us pain because we attach an emotion to those memories. You burn your finger once on a hot stove, you don’t do it again, because your brain always watches hot stoves vigilantly. It’s not on one side of the brain or the other; it comes from your memory. So, it’s not particularly helpful to address logical people or emotional people in the room – we’re both and better with emotions than logic. Telling a good story should be your first and last thought when thinking about what to say to an audience.

Don’t let these brain myths lead you to design a presentation that makes your audience work harder than they need to!

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