Neuroscientist’s Stroke Speech is True Stemwinder

If you want to give a great speech, tell a personal story.  It helps if it’s about your ability to experience nirvana.

The speech was delivered in February by Harvard neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor and has become an internet phenomenon.  The talk, in which she describes her stroke, has been viewed more than 2 million times and is continuing to be seen at a rate of about 20,000 a day, according to TED, the Technology, Entertainment, Design conference that sponsored the speech.

As of this writing, an article about Ms. Taylor in Sunday’s New York Times was the newspaper’s most emailed story. The speech is an amazing story of a neuroscientist’s personal experience having a stroke. She delivers the message with lots of passion. And there are mystical elements about her ability to experience “nirvana.”

To my mind, however, what makes the speech great is the personal nature of the story. How often do you get to hear someone who knows so much about the brain discuss her own stroke? 

The public speaking lesson here is that personal stories hold an audience.

By the way, Professor Taylor actually does a two-minute “show and tell” with a real human brain. So if you’re squeamish, don’t watch. I found it fascinating.


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