Over the past five years, I have spent an increasing amount of my time talking to the general public. In doing so, I have learned to change the way I communicate by relying much more on the presentation of ideas, the audience reaction, timing and context. Content is vital but it is the way that you say things that makes all the difference. As a social animal, we are highly attuned to each other and I find audiences respond better when you think beyond the content of what you are saying and think about it as telling a story. The human brain is always seeking structure and meaning. Psychology reminds us that it is the ultimate storyteller. Professional speakers have known this for years and the best ones are naturally and often intuitively skilled. Whether they are aware of exactly what they are doing or not, the best practices tap into well established principles of social psychology that I now recognize when I get up and talk to a room full of strangers. People want to like you. People want to believe what you are saying. People want that emotional experience. Even when you have read the book or know the story well, audiences still want to hear it said. That’s why there will always be the live performance and public lecture.
Bruce Hood is Director of the Bristol Cognitive Development Centre in the Experimental Psychology Department at the University of Bristol. He is giving this year’s Royal Institution Christmas Lectures on the topic of Meet Your Brain.