In an earlier post, “yin, yang and your brain,” I have written about the differences between left-brain thinkers and right-brain thinkers. At the end of the article I made a quick reference to a three-layered model of our brain, which is also known as the triune brain.


According to this model, the human brain is —by evolution— made up of three sub-brains that co-habit in the human skull and work together as one.

  • The oldest part of your brain is the archipallium, or the reptilian brain. It’s called that way, because we share it with birds and reptiles. It is responsible for all the ‘automatic’ functions of your body, like controlling your heartbeat, breathing, and your body temperature. Consequently, it is full of fear, and may put you in “survival mode” under (perceived) life-threatening conditions.
    But, unfortunately, this part of your brain can’t make the difference between a real physical threat and an imaginary threat, like fear of public speaking. This is why some presenters freeze up when they get in front of an audience.
    So, when you’re overwhelmed by stage fright, blame it on your reptile brain (and try to apply some of the tips I have presented in my “no more fear of speaking” post.)
  • On top of the archipallium is the paleopallium, a.k.a. the mammalian brain or the limbic system. Most mammals, such as cats and dogs, have one. This part of the brain drives you to seek pleasure and avoid pain. When you get emotional about things like food, sex or violence, it’s that part of your brain that is working.
    Since people will never forget how you made them feel, this part of the brain is extremely important for both you as a presenter and for your audience. When triggered by positive emotions, the limbic system will inject a shot of dopamine into their brains and make them feel warm, comfortable and confident. And when confronted with a painful situation, they will want to avoid it happening to them and become receptive to the solutions you are proposing.
  • On top of both of the two older, inner brains there is the neopallium, or the neocortex. It is also called the rational brain, and takes up a massive two-thirds of the human brain (although some of us may not utilize it to its full extent.) When you are thinking and reasoning, this is the part of your brain that’s doing the job. It’s also responsible for interpreting language and figures.
    A common problem is that many speakers solely rely on the ratio of their audience. But, sometimes the neocortex gets overpowered by one of its peer brains, and lets fear or emotion take power over their feelings, reactions or decisions.

As a conclusion, knowing how the human brain works, being able to control the triggers you send out, and understanding the way that the people in your audience will react to them are extremely important if you want to deliver an impactful presentation. Doing or telling the right things may influence your listener’s opinion, appreciation and behavior. But always beware: if this knowledge is not used wisely it may give you a false feeling of control.

NB: recently, a new brain model has shown up, dividing people into top-brain and bottom-brain users (read this: Right-Brained Or Left-Brained? Actually, You May Be Neither)