Engage the Neanderthal, because the brain isn't listening

Imagine a room full of marketers and business executives primed for an engaging conversation on marketing trends.  The keynote presenter is from a prominent consultancy and has been breathlessly promoted to the whole group as the marketing expert. 

Everybody sits up straight as he takes the stage.

Five minutes later the majority are looking at their phones.  

Ten minutes later people are leaving. 

The small group that ends up engaging the speaker after his talk is more interested in asking for a job than discussing a project. 

Despite the best possible lead-in, this presentation was a disaster.  

The worst part was that the speaker didn't even realize it.  

I was in the audience for this talk, and I can tell you the guy knew his stuff.  The research that had gone into the work that he was presenting was phenomenal.

The problem that he faced, and that we all face, is that the part of the brain that thinks is not the part of the brain that listens. 

His whole presentation spoke to the thinking brain, the neocortex. 

 He had slide after slide of charts that were all interesting and relevant and all required deep grey matter neurons to both create and also to understand. 

The audience, being mostly human, wasn’t listening with their grey matter.

We all listen with the old part of our brain, the reptilian core that is responsible for deciding whether something is familiar or unfamiliar, friendly or dangerous, interesting or to be ignored. 

Think of this as a Neanderthal gatekeeper that is protecting the modern brain from having to do any work.

If the Neanderthal doesn’t get what you are saying or find your information somehow familiar or interesting, it will never pass the information on to the thinking neocortex.

You, however, want your information to reach the neocortex. 

The goal of your presentation, your marketing, and your communications is to get past the gatekeeper and engage the thinking part of your audience’s brain. 

There they can decide that they want to learn more, that they agree with your idea or that they want to hire you.

In life and business we do a lot of work to understand our positions, and then we want to communicate the quality of that work.

We want to communicate our findings. T

hat's fine. We need to do that. We need to have that kind of thinking. 

But our tendency, like our big-name presenter here, is to forget about all of the steps that got us to those conclusions – we assume that everybody has been on the ride with us.  But they haven’t been, and they have no idea coming in what we are talking about. 

So the gatekeeper takes one look, yawns and goes for the shiny, beeping, familiar, interesting phone.

The solution is to step back from the data, understand what it means and develop messaging that attracts the Neanderthal.  

Craft a story that engages your audience by talking about the problems that they have and the solutions that solve the problem.  Problems are familiar, and solutions are interesting.

Once you have made it into the thinking brain, your audience will start to ask themselves: why is this true?  Can he or she really do this?  How do they do that? 

Those are the questions you want to inspire.  Once the audience is interested, you can start to use some of your data to cement your position and explain how you solve the problem. 

Though even here there is a risk: it is critical to keep the information relevant and concise.  The Neanderthal gatekeeper can always step back in and deny access. 

So next time you are presenting, pitching or marketing remember:

  • Create a story that highlights the problem.
  • Provide a useful solution.
  • Stop talking before you bore your audience.

And be ready for questions. 

Because if you engage your audience and your prospects well they will want to talk to you for more information and you will welcome the few job seekers because you will need the help.