Presenting Beyond The Conscious Filters

Modeling Excellent Presenters

Many speakers are so fixated on organizing the content of their presentation, that they get too focused on the conversation in their heads and they fail to relax and connect at the unconscious level where the real communication occurs between people

In Doctor Albert Merhabian’s famous study of face-to-face, one-on-one communication in the context of ‘liking’ between people, it was shown that only 7% of the communication a listener pays attention to is ‘verbal’ in nature. 

This ‘verbal’ aspect included focus on words and meaning.  It is the content of what is said.  “Pay attention to what I am telling you.”

Of the remaining 93%, 38% was found to be ‘vocal,’ including how something is said as in voice characteristics like pitch and tone.  It is what you hear.  “Listen to how I am saying it to you.” 

That left 55% of the impact of communication between people at the ‘non-verbal’ level.  ‘Non-verbal’ is physiology, included body posture, movement, touch, and other tactile sensation.  It is what you see.  “Pay attention to what I am doing with my body.”

To be in full communication and ‘in rapport’ with an audience, the vocal qualities and body movements should be in alignment with all aspects of the message including the emotional content. 

Psychologist, Ray L Birdwhistell later pointed out about Mehrabian’s seminal study, that if 7% at the communication is taken in by an individual at the ‘verbal’ level where our conscious attention is focused, then 93% of the full communication is received at the unconscious mind level.  That is, focused on communication at the ‘vocal’ and ‘nonverbal’ levels. 

The emotional aspect of the intended message is not likely to be communicated well by a presenter whose focus is only on the ‘verbal’ or consciously directed, ‘meaning’ part of the communication

Saying, “Pay attention to the content of what I am saying.”, misses how we actually process and integrate communication.  The tonality and body language are much more important than the content. (Mehrhabian’s Rule 7-38-55)

Presenting At Both Levels

High Performance Presenters speak to both parts of the minds of their audiences.  The Conscious Mind collects and evaluates information by analyzing and critiquing, so great presenters do make sure they are presenting enough left-brain information to satisfy the conscious mind (7%).  And, more importantly, they know to devote much more of their attention to the unconscious or ‘emotional’ part of the communication (93%).

Conscious Left-Brain Processing

These conscious processes demand structure and organization so you’ll want to remember that the brain has limited information storage.  Remember, the Conscious Mind (7%), is only the ‘tip of iceberg.’  In brain function research, the functions referred to as left-brain activities relate directly to what we recognize as the Conscious Mind. 

Left-brain activity is understood to be more mathematical, logical, and linear-thinking oriented.  It has limited storage capacity, content tends to be more procedural, and is more specific or detail-oriented.  Left brain function is also less emotional and tends to be communicated in a more flat, monotoned manner with rigid, mask-like, or passive, facial expression.

Unconscious Right-Brain Processing

The Unconscious Mind, as we think it with regard to more right-brain activity, is involved in subjective experience.  The right brain can collect vast amounts of information and store it in various ways of encoding.  It tends toward options, is functional in its scope, and is more general, or big-picture oriented. 

The right brain is less structured and can hold memories from an entire lifetime and it has large storage capacity.  Memories tend to be accessed with emotional feelings attached to them. 

Right brain activity is in general more emotional, communicated rhythmically, and with a lot of ups and downs in volume, tone, and inflection, as well as sweeping gestures, and more exaggerated facial expressions.

Inviting Evaluation vs. Creating An Experience

A presentation directed to the Conscious Mind language and body movement invites evaluation and analysis and utilizes more left-brained characteristics.  Audience members may comment that “The talk was good, but I disagree with a few points.”  A presentation focused more on right-brain communication might elicit a comment that, “The talk was great!  I feel really positive and inspired to do more.” An experience was created.

A strong positive belief of High Performance Presenters is that they trust that their message got embedded and new thinking is likely to result regardless of whether people can specifically repeat back exactly what was said in any particular order.  Belief systems are often expanded among members of the audience and new ways of looking at things are created. 

The message and the learning are likely to impact the individual over time in a number of different ways.  The most persuasive messages are not recorded in the Conscious Mind, but are embedded in the Unconscious Mind.  Right-brained communication techniques naturally tend to take advantage of this phenomena.

Getting Your Audience Out of Their Heads

To create a powerful experience with your presentation, you must actually interrupt the conscious evaluation patterns of your audience.  You’ve heard the phrase, “get out of your head.”  To interrupt the pattern of evaluation and judgment is a process of switching people to a more right-brain processing mode. 

Word choice is important.  Words that are sensory-based, like colorful, imagine, wonder, bright, vivid, feel, grateful, etc. must be processed in a part of the brain that is more right-brained.  Thinking words like, specifically, in order, 1st/2nd/3rd, exactly, explain, analyze, figured, evaluate, logical, organized, etc., are more left-brained and require processing in different part of the brain.  

Many speakers are afraid of evaluation and take it as judgment.  They tend to miss chances to bypass left-brain, conscious processing in order to speak directly to the unconscious mind. 

Unconscious communication goes to the ‘heart’ of the audience.  A primary way that High Performance Presenters reach the unconscious mind of your audience, now, is by using High Impact Techniques.

High Impact Techniques (HIT’s)

High Impact Techniques include the use of metaphor, or the telling of stories, statistics, and movement.  Other HITs are jokes to elicit laughter, demonstrations with audience members or objects.  Even high-value statistical input can be impactful when used to create a sense of credibility in the message and the person delivering the message. 

HIT’s allow a presenter to bypass the conscious mind and put the audience in a light trance state and these states occur whenever a good speaker presents to an audience.

Stimulus Variability

Normal adult listening time is 18 minutes or less.  You can count on the attention of your audience to begin to roam in search of other things to focus upon.  HIT’s give you a major tool in order to supply the mind with things to roam toward or refocus upon.  

A good rule of thumb is to supply a HIT about every ten (10) minutes.  This will continually keep your audience engaged in what you are doing and saying.  Use multiple techniques and approaches and maintain a variety of Stimulus Variability events throughout your presentation. 

While changing an overhead every 10 minutes is better than no change, it is likely not to be enough.  Effective stimulus variability techniques or HIT’s are generally delivered in an unpredictable manner. 

The audience should not know what is coming next.  The intention is to keep your audience anticipating and keep them engaged in the process. 

You will want to create movement of the body and the mind for audience members.  Stimulus Variability is directed at the Unconscious Mind.  In addition, you have the benefit of consistently checking to make sure that when you give a suggestion, your audience follows.  This is the first rule of trance induction.

Here are some Stimulus Variability Techniques (HIT’s):

  • Have people stand up, sit down, etc.
  • Ask your audience to look right and/or left, then make some point
  • Move across the stage
  • Tell a compelling story to demonstrate your point (metaphor)
  • Ask a directed question to an individual
  • Deliver a hand-out
  • Have people talk to each other
  • Ask people to write something down on paper
  • Do a demonstration
  • Use music
  • Call on someone to share
  • Cite credible sources
  • Use frozen hand gestures
  • Drop something that will make a loud sound
  • Mark out a position on stage and walk to that position to deliver a particular type of information

These techniques and many more are the subject matter in the upcoming NLP Presenters Training and NLP Trainer’s Certification. 

Contact Bill Thomason 602 321-7192 in Phoenix, Arizona USA to learn more or navigate to:


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By Bill Thomason

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