Jeremy Teitelbaum

We have all heard the traditional (and outdated) suggestions for public speaking: Use hand gestures, make eye contact, don’t look the at the projector screen, don’t read your presentation word for word… etc. So why do so many presentations still flop? The answer is emerging in cognitive neuroscience or the study of how the human brain works.

We used to think that there was one right way to communicate. However we now understand that everyone is different and everyone has their own way of speaking, listening, and interacting. Each of these differences makes us who we are, and gives us our unique strengths as individuals.

My research into how people communicate, connect and interact with each other shows that there are five major types of communication. Each type is the result of how your brain is organized and which parts of your brain are dominant. If you want to persuade, lead and influence others you have to speak to them in the way their brains process messages. There is a very good chance that in any audience you will have a variety of communication types listening. So to truly connect, you must speak to each person. Here are five things you can do.

1. Build Social Connections

When you are a speaker, you can find out who the social peers of your audience are. Then you find ways to build connections into your presentation. If you are making a sales presentation, you want to have testimonials from the peer groups of your target market.  However, if you are starting out, or cant get those kinds of testimonials, then think about who would influence your audience. I recently saw a small business that had a local news reporter as one of their customers. They asked him for a testimonial and their business skyrocketed. People in the community admired the reporter. This is why celebrity endorsements are so valuable to businesses. Many professional athletes can earn far more in endorsement deals than they can playing sports.

2. Be Direct and to the point

This one can be challenging, because you don’t want to come across as politically incorrect or overtly forceful. But the worst thing you can do is be indirect about how your business can help your client. If you don’t specifically tell some people what you can do for them, they won’t be able to hear anything else. The big mistake presenters make, is waiting until the end of their presentation to address this. But you need to bring it up in the beginning. A powerful presentation opener is to say “in the next 10 minutes I am going to show you how you can double your sales with my product.”

3. Choose language carefully

This may seem obvious, but many speakers don’t realize how important a single word can be with some audience members. I’m not suggesting you need to be the next Martin Luther King Jr. but you do want to spend some time with your language. Although your legal department might not like it, saying this could increase your sales makes you sound unsure of yourself. George Zimmer who founded the Men’s Warehouse clothing stores used to sign off his commercials with the phrase “I guarantee it.” This one little phrase became his signature mark because in three words summarized why his business was unique.

4. Show and tell visual stories

Anytime you are speaking about complex ideas, using statistics and data, or talking about places it is a good idea to include some visuals in your presentation. But that’s not all you should do. Although it depends on your topic and your audience, you do want to blend facts with emotional appeals. A great way to do this is to tell stories. Almost every presentation you give should begin with a strong, powerful story. Tie it into the topic, the audience, and the occasion. Make sure that your stories are visual and excite the senses in the mind’s eye of your audience. Think of stories as the emotional connection of your facts.  Notice how many television commercials tell stories. It works.

5. Make people think

There is a tendency in presentations to want to give as much information as possible and not let the audience try to figure anything out on their own. This is a mistake. When you present some facts, stop and let the audience apply it to their own lives. The most powerful way to do this is with the rhetorical question. Don’t tell your audience you can save them 10 hours a week with your book keeping system. Ask them “what would you do with an additional ten hours a week that you didn’t have to spend on your bookkeeping…?” And give them some time to analyze it. You will see the audience members look up in the sky for a moment and then smile as they imagine all the ways they would use that extra time.

Remember, just because you favor on or two of the above, your audience members will not all be just like you. So, if you want to really connect with every person sitting in your audience you have to speak to them the way they want to be spoken to. The more you can do this, the more effective, persuasive, influential, and collaborative you will be. And try this in all of your interactions. With your coworkers, family, friends and clients. Whether speaking to one thousand people or one person, it’s our brains that really do the listening.

Jeremy Teitelbaum offers individual and group training to help professionals speak more effectively, feel confident, persuade and lead others. He is the author of the forthcoming book Cognitive Communication: The science of connection and influence. He is on the faculty of Cal Poly and has been teaching, training, researching, and consulting in communication for 20 years. For an online assessment to determine your own communication type visit