This week I’m addressing some of the myths of communications that get in the way of great public speaking. Today, I’ll take on the right-brain, left-brain idea, the you-only-use-10-percent-of-your-brain idea, and the learning styles idea. Next time, I’ll address mirror neurons.

But first, congratulations to Dale Penn, who wins the scariest-moment-ever speaking prize. Dale, send me your address and a book is on its way to you. Dale was speaking on a cruise ship when the Captain interrupted him to tell the passengers that a hurricane was descending on the ship and it was taking on water.

That worked for me. Other honorable mentions included walking into the wrong room, getting the wrong sound system, and the questioner with the knife. Thanks, all, for those truly scary moments.

But let’s get back to those myths.

Left Brain Right Brain?

This myth has worked its way so deeply into the public mind that 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 over 1.7 million copies. A myth!

Here’s the point – yes, people are different. No, they’re not right- or left-brained.   There’s no evidence in science to support that nice idea. So 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 to blondes and brown-haired audience members.

You’re Only Using 10 Percent of Your Brain!

Ah, if only this one were true. Then we could indeed do mental exercises and suddenly become vastly more able, or smarter. But unfortunately, we use most of our brains, most of the time. There’s not much spare capacity. So don’t perpetuate this myth as a factoid, and have mercy on your audience: don’t ask them to do ridiculous things in an effort to tone up their brains. You’ll just frustrate and annoy them.

That Visual-Kinesthetic-Auditory Thing

This myth, that we each have a dominant learning style, either visual or kinesthetic or auditory, and that good teaching or public speaking means appealing to these various types, is a particularly tough one, because we’ve all been told we’re one or the other. Thus it becomes something nice to hang on to when we’re confronted with a bunch of PowerPoint slides – we can say, “I’m a kinesthetic learner, so I need to walk around, preferably through that door marked ‘Exit’ now.”

But alas, it’s not true. We process most of the information we take in through our eyes – we’re all visual learners primarily. That’s just a fact about the way the brain processes information. Let me hasten to add that that is not support for PowerPoint or other slideware, because most of the visual information we’re primed to take in involves looking at other people and decoding their intent through body language.

So let go of the idea that you’re required, as a good speaker, 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.

Design the best speeches you can, based on taking the audience on a journey, telling stories, appealing to their emotions, and using facts with care. Don’t use these myths to guide your speech prep or delivery, because they will not help you become a better speaker.


  1. Couldn’t agree more with this post, Nick. Oddly enough at a conference this week, I was seated next to a group of media trainers and the discussion focused on “That Visual-Kinesthetic-Auditory Thing”, so the myth continues to flourish and neuroscience seems to be the flavor of the month for solving all problems.

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