What would you do if you woke up to find yourself experiencing a stroke?
That’s exactly what Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor experienced on the morning of December 10, 1996.
As a neuroanatomist, Taylor studies higher brain functions, particularly diseases such as Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. When her brother was diagnosed with Schizophrenia, Taylor dedicated her career and her life to studying the disease and others like it.
In this beautifully orated TED talk, Bolte gives us a very detailed account of her thoughts and emotions as her brain hemorrhages and her consciousness blurs in and out of reality. She walks us through the entire scientific process of the event, but the most interesting information arises as she discusses the semi-transcendentalist state she fades in and out of throughout this unique encounter.
Taylor is a fantastic speaker. She fills each sentence with emotion and passion about the topic. Just by watching her body language, we can see how deeply not only this event affected her life and demeanor, but also how much she cares about the subject matter. She lives and breathes for brain research because she has a soft spot in her heart for the victims of brain diseases.
As she explains the sequence of events, she packs her story full of rich, often shocking, detail to illustrate the emotions associated with her thoughts and actions. She approaches the event as a novelist would, carefully and expertly using descriptions to transport the audience into her body as she loses touch with reality. As her mind begins to flicker into an alternate state of being, her left-brain pulses and her right-brain examines the molecular structure of the objects around her. The audience is right there with her, thinking and feeling her thoughts and senses as if they are experiencing it themselves.
Her strongest asset as a presenter is her honesty. Taylor has the ability to be truly honest in her words to the point of passionately expressing herself through re-living the event. As she describes it, we can see the power in her words, feel the emotion in her voice. It’s shaky, yet strong, and it makes us feel extremely on edge, but comfortably curious about the nature of the stroke. We are entranced by her strong emotional tie to the science of this almost supernatural experience.
Not only is Taylor’s delivery spot-on, she has constructed her presentation in such a way that the audience can’t help but drool over the story. She uses expert pacing and pausing to weave her experience into a three-act structure, almost like a play.
First, she begins the presentation with a preface about her personal situation with her brother, which plays a huge role in her career and also explains a lot about her personality. We will hear about how these skills from her profession enhance her altered state later. We get a glimpse into what her life was like before, and the reason she chooses to explore what became her passion.
Then, Taylor works to educate the audience on the science behind basic brain functions. This setup is designed to prepare the audience for the story that comes. Once we understand the mechanics of the brain, we can fully appreciate the story that is coming. While we’re learning, we don’t know that we’ll be using this information later in the story, but it serves a very important purpose in the presentation. During this portion of the presentation, Taylor uses two more great presentation tactics: the prop and the shocker. She brings out a real human brain. Yes, you heard me correctly. As she holds it in her gloved hands, we can hear the audience groaning and laughing. This is a great, real reaction that only increases the value not only of Taylor as a presenter, but also of the entire presentation.
After that, we enter the meat of the story. We vividly re-live Taylor’s stroke and the emotions that follow. We are in our seats, leaning forward, absorbing her every word. As we’ve said before, this section really plays into Taylor’s role as a passionate storyteller.
She wraps up the presentation by going into an extremely in-depth description of the altered-state experience. She builds up her words and her passion simultaneously, coming to a climax with the words, “I am the life-force power of the universe. I am the life-force power of the 50 trillion beautiful molecular geniuses that make up my form, at one with all that is.” She poses the question, “Who do you choose?” in reference to which side of the brain should we as humans trust and follow. We use both seamlessly, but once we give ourselves to the feelings of our right-brain, we experience something larger than life. We experience an open, free, calm beauty of the natural universe that is almost never felt by mankind. To think that this “life-force” exists inside our own minds is a type of revelation that leaves the audience overwhelmed with a new sense of wonder. And isn’t that the goal? To change our audience, to make them leave the room feeling uplifted or in awe, to have given them an experience?