I want to discuss three communication myths that get in the way of great public speaking: the right-brain, left-brain idea, the you-only-use-10-percent-of-your-brain idea, and the learning-styles idea.
This myth has worked its way so deeply into the public mind it may never be dislodged. There are left-brainers, so the myth goes, and right-brainers. One is logical, numbers-oriented, and the other is artsy. Or something like that. I can never remember which is which. “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” is in its 4th edition, and, according to Amazon, has sold more than 1.7 million copies. A myth!
Yes, people are different. No, they’re not right- or left-brained. No science supports that idea. You don’t have to design your speeches to give relief to one side or the other. It makes about as much sense as designing speeches to appeal alternately to blond- and brown-haired audience members.
You only use 10 percent of your brain!
If only this were true. We could do mental exercises and suddenly become vastly more able, smarter. Unfortunately, we use most of our brains most of the time. There’s not much spare capacity. Don’t perpetuate this myth. Have mercy on your audience: Don’t ask them to do ridiculous things to tone up their brains. You’ll just frustrate and annoy them.
That “I’m a visual-kinesthetic-auditory learner” thingy
The myth that we each have a dominant learning style, either visual or kinesthetic or auditory, and that good teaching or public speaking appeals to these types, is a particularly tough one. We’ve all been told we’re one or the other. It becomes something to hang on to when we’re confronted with PowerPoint slides—we can say, “I’m a kinesthetic learner, so I need to walk around, preferably through that ‘Exit’ door.”
It’s not true. We take in most of the information we process through our eyes-we’re all visual learners. That’s just a fact about the way the brain processes information. I’m not supporting PowerPoint or slideware; most of the visual information we take in involves looking at other people and decoding their intent through body language.
Let go of the idea that you’re required to sing to the auditory learners, put up slides for the visual learners, and dance for the kinesthetic learners. That’s bad pedagogy based on bad science.
Write the best speeches you can, take your audience on a journey, tell stories, appeal to their emotions, and use facts with care. Don’t use myths to guide your speech prep or delivery. They won’t make you a better speaker.
A version of this article first appeared on Public Words.