How To Tackle The Runaway Brain

Written by David Pullan

How To Tackle The Runaway Brain

Have you ever been in a situation where someone has been telling you a story or a joke and you’ve known what the conclusion is before they get to the denouement or the punch line?

It’s like you’ve reached the finishing line and are twiddling your thumbs while they are still huffing and puffing half way down the track.

Annoying isn’t it?

This is a problem McKechnie and I come across time and time again in all forms of presentations and meetings.

The reality is that you shouldn’t beat yourself up too much as research has shown that while we may speak at about 150 - 200 words per minute, the listener’s brain is capable of processing and analysing information at about 600 words per minute. While you are talking, your audience’s mind is making connections, deleting unnecessary information and performing all manner of processes in a way that Apple and Microsoft can only dream about. Our brains are awesome.

So the question is, ‘How can we slow someone’s thinking during a presentation or meeting so that we close the gap between our speech and their thought and cross the finishing line together?’

Here are a few ideas.

Find the briefest way you can say it: I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I’m yet to come across a presenter or meeting chair who has been called back for an encore. Over explanation is a killer. Keep your content punchy and get them asking questions as soon as possible. If you had to tweet your messages what would you say then?

Use questions in your content: You can do this in a couple of ways. The best way is to ask them direct questions and turn the presentation into a dialogue as soon as possible. The other way is to use rhetorical questions within your content. Both of these options slow the thought process of the audience and get them to walk around a particular issue rather than speeding ahead to their own conclusion.

Vary your delivery model: Talking at people is a terrible way of conveying information. Apart from asking questions, as I mentioned above, can you get your audience to do something in the presentation? Is there a piece of technology that they can get their hands on or manipulate with your help rather than just listening to you spout on about it?

Use brief but powerful future stories: Hey you didn’t think you were going to get away with a blog from me without story coming up did you? Future stories are great. When an audience gets ahead of you they are basically imaging the future anyway. Make use of this fact by painting the rosy glow of how their world will be if they follow you and your ideas.

Use indicators: Phrases such as, ‘Now this is interesting’ and ‘There something really important I want you to remember’ are indicators. They are like a little braking system for the brain. If you use them you will get the audience to momentarily stop and focus on the present moment. But I recommend you only use them if what you are about to say actually is interesting.

Pause and Emphasise: This is one of the foundations of the hypnotist’s art. They call it analogue marking, because it makes it sound like rocket science. All it means is that you embed ideas in the long term memory of your audience by giving a short pause before the important sections and then putting that section in vocal ‘neon lights.’ It’s actually something we do quite naturally when we are talking passionately about something we care about.

Focus out: This is by far the most important tip, and the one on which all of the above will hang. You have to focus out onto you audience. Really look at them. Get the non-verbal feedback as to whether they are bored, confused or skipping ahead. If you see any hint of these things then find ways to use one of the tools I’ve mentioned.

So there you go. Always remember that you are in a race with the audience to the finish line. The trouble is that their brains are like Usain Bolt while your rate of speaking is like…well, you. 

Find a way to tackle the runaway brain and make sure that you finish together.  

Till next time. 


photo credit: situnek34 <a href="">;_W8F5221</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>


  • W B Yeats

    'Think like a wise man, but communicate in the language of the people.'