The Left Brain PowerPoint

In case you haven’t seen this animated video of a talk by psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist, it’s worth watching:

Iain clears up popular misconceptions about the function and relationship between the right brain and left brain, and updates our current understanding of the two hemispheres:

  • The left brain helps us work with information within a closed system that is fixed, isolated, static, abstract and general.
  • The right brain helps us work with  information within a broad context that is living, interconnected, changing and individual.

The product of predominantly left-brain thinking is data and bullet points – information that is fixed, isolated, static, abstract and general.

On the other hand, the presentation of this information by one person to other people happens within a broad context that is living, interconnected, changing and individual.

This situation defines the problem we face when we try to communicate left-brain thinking through a right-brain experience – we are actually doing the very difficult work of bridging the two hemispheres of our brain.

Of course, the task is much easier said than done, as the entrenched problems of PowerPoint continue to display on screens everywhere.

After years of working with executives, attorneys and other professionals to bridge the gap between left and right, some of the most effective techniques I’ve come up are:

  • Keep switching back to Slide Sorter view, so you continually see the big picture of your presentation and get a feel for how the details relate to the whole.
  • Start your presentation with a striking image or anecdote, to activate the right brain at the start and provide the context for the detail to come.
  • Immediately reveal the simple structure of your presentation by presenting your key points, to prevent your audience from getting lost in the detail.

Bridging the gap between left and right takes repeated practice – it’s not something that will change permanently after simply reading or book or taking a workshop. But as you stretch your thinking – and your brain – you just might be surprised at how flexibly creative and clear you can be.

What are your favorite techniques for bridging left and right?

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9 Responses to “The Left Brain PowerPoint”

  1. Jef Menguin says:

    I use stories and graphics. Then at time I use statistics and graphs. It is great to use your whole brain.

    Jef Menguin

  2. Darrel says:

    Bridge your hemispheres by joining a local Toastmasters club.

    They have at least a half-dozen advanced projects dealing with powerpoint presentations.

    At Toastmasters, you may practice that presentation in front of an audience before you take it out to your customer.


  3. Fascinating video – thanks for sharing, Cliff.

    There are quite a few good ways to bridge left and right hemispheres. For instance, I like to use many slide types (e.g. photos, charts, quotes, tables etc) to give both sides of the brain some content. In fact I see each slide type as being emotive and/or informative, which is quite a different viewpoint.

    Anyway, thanks again for posting the video, and I’d be delighted if you’d like to comment on any of my own posts.

  4. Thanks for the insight, Cliff! This short post got me thinking while working on an academic project-presentation.
    I had a hard time figuring out how to activate my classmates to actually pay attention other than get lost in the details of my research project. So , I hid some “striking images” among my slides like you suggested and it worked!
    Thank you for that! Helped me a lot!

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  7. Julie says:

    I try to make sure I always involve as many of their senses as possible. And I agree with Craig, I use as many different slide types as possible.

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