I guess that’s why we don’t see too many pigs or horses using PowerPoint.
We are unquestionably one of the planet’s most successful creations because we are able to learn, recall what we have learned and share it with each other. We’ve been sharing what we know for centuries, and in business, it’s more important today than ever that we do so effectively. We call it presenting. The good news is that everyone has the same intellectual potential to present ideas with power and impact.
That potential is only achieved through understanding how we use our brains to communicate with the impact we wish to make.
For decades, neuroscientists have been telling us that we have two distinct parts of the brain, each of which has its own specific functions. We’ve all heard of the left brain, which is said to be responsible for logic, analysis and detail, and we’re also familiar with its counterpart the right brain, which drives emotion, intuition and creativity.
More recently much of that research has been challenged, and today many neuroscientists believe there is no solid science-based evidence to support the left/right brain theory we have believed for so long. Now we hear scientists talk about the relationship between the top brain and bottom brain.
Whether it’s the left brain/right brain, top brain/bottom brain, conscious mind or subconscious mind or any other brain/mind relationship science cares to dispute, we can be certain that in whatever location they may be situated, our brain allows us the capacity for:
- Critical thinking
And more than we could ever imagine
Whichever part of our brain is responsible for each of these attributes may continue to be under scrutiny and open for debate for some time. In the meantime, most business presenters will continue to mistakenly believe that being professional means you have to present only logic, analysis and detail to be taken seriously. They will continue to prepare and deliver presentations paying little attention to the emotional, creative and imaginative functions of the brain.
The end result is often a well-reasoned and structured but also dull and monotonous business presentation.
Why is that?
Regardless of age, gender, experience or status, we are all creatures of habit. Just beneath our cerebral cortex sits a small piece of neural tissue called the basal ganglia, and neuroscientists believe that once our brain encodes a habit into our basal ganglia, that habit never really disappears. That’s the simple reason why so many of today’s business presentations are so tedious: they have been created and delivered through nothing more than habit — bad habit.
The good news is that we can create new habits.
The best speakers have an understanding about how the brain works when it comes to public speaking because, after all, that’s what they are doing — using the brain to influence, persuade and inspire a room full of other brains.
With that knowledge, they consciously create good habits.
The brain and stage fright
It always starts with a thought:
- I’ll forget what I want to say.
- The audience will be bored.
- They will see I’m nervous.
- They won’t like me, believe me or agree with me.
- They will ask me questions and I won‘t know the answer.
It is always one or more of these negative thoughts that trigger the pituitary gland to secrete ACTH, the hormone that releases adrenaline into the speaker’s blood. It’s the adrenaline that produces most of the symptoms that we associate with stage fright: sweaty palms, increased heart rate, trembling and disturbed breathing.
The great presenters’ brains are not immune to these negative thoughts but know exactly what to do when they occur:
Habit 1: They acknowledge and reframe
When they feel their palms becoming sweaty, the butterflies in their stomach or their heart racing, they understand they’re nervous, accept the nerves as normal and tell themselves it’s OK to feel that way. They remind themselves that the reason they feel that way is because they have something important to say and they want to get it right, but they also tell themselves that it’s not a performance they are giving; it’s a conversation they are going to have.
Habit 2: They focus on the audience
Mindful presenters take the attention off themselves and place it on their audience, reminding themselves that it’s how they make their audience feel that’s important, so that’s where their focus is placed.
Habit 3: They don’t try to be perfect
Anxiety increases substantially when we strive for perfection. The great presenters know that, so they don’t try to go for an award-winning performance. Instead, they know that their job is simply to be the best of who they are with the sole intention of making a difference to their audience rather than making themselves look like superstars.
Habit 4: They stick to the point
Nervous presenters want to tell their audience everything they know, and in the process, they worry that they will forget something or get something wrong. Great presenters tell the audience what they need to know, remembering that less is always more.
Habit 5: They see the opportunity
Nervous presenters see the presentation as a performance where they will be judged. In that performance, their audience is the predator while they are the prey. Great presenters see the presentation as an opportunity to help their audience and to add value to their personal or professional lives.
Habit 6: They “anchor” themselves
Anchoring is a neuro-linguistic programming technique that can change your state of mind or mood easily. It works by simply recalling a time you felt happy, confident, calm and relaxed, breathing deeply and remembering how good that time felt, seeing yourself back there in that moment.
Habit 7: They practice
Repetition truly is the mother of skill, and great presenters know that only too well. Nervous presenters invest their time and energy worrying incessantly about the event, while great presenters use their time to practice, practice and then practice some more.