Know Your Audience’s Learning Style

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I regularly speak encourage presenters to be “audience-centric”, meaning focusing the goals of the presentation on the audience, align the message of the speech to the audience’s goals, and engaging your audience. Contrary to what most speakers think, presentations aren’t about the speaker, even for bid presentation. One of the best ways to be audience-centric is to know your audience’s learning style.

When thinking about learning styles, most people automatically think about school-aged children and how to prepare lesson plans accommodating the combination of different learning styles that a teacher would find in the classroom. However, what happens when those children grow up; do those learning styles just disappear and no longer affect adults? Nope!

We need to stop only considering learning styles for children, and it is high time that we begin taking the learning styles of adults into consideration. Adjusting the way you present to accommodate your audience’s learning style will improve their comprehension and retention of your message.

Perhaps this analogy will help: A presenter is a teacher and the audience is a class waiting to learn. When planning to give a presentation to any audience, consider who is expected to be present and what careers they come from.

Each profession requires a different dominant learning style because most people choose a profession that they’re naturally inclined toward and that natural inclination is caused by a person’s learning style. If you become familiar with the learning styles, then you can use this information to identify your audience’s and prepare your presentation for the needs of the audience. Knowing whether you need a visual presentation, factual data, an activity, or music in the background can ensure that your “class” is successful and the listener received your message.

web_offer_banner_3_contentmarketingKnow that utilizing learning styles only governs how you deliver the presentation or what components you add or remove, it does not automatically make the presentation “simple” or forgive speaking over the audience’s head in jargon. (Learn more about simplification.)

In the dawn of the psychometric research, it was generally believed that intelligence was a single entity that was inherited and that human beings could be trained to learn anything if it was given in the appropriate way. An increasing number of researchers believe precisely the opposite today, that each intelligence has its own strengths and constraints.

Howard Gardner is a research psychologist who investigated cognitive development in children and he argued that there are a wide variety of cognitive abilities which are weakly correlated with each other. Gardner created 7 intelligences that rarely operate independently and they usually complement each other. People are made up of several learning styles or intelligences and it depends on what intelligence is most dominant that dictates how they learn and usually what profession they go into because of the comfort in that learning style. 

Understanding Your Audience’s Learning Style

Linguistic/Verbal 

This intelligence is primarily a school intelligence, so it is seen most often and why I listed it first as it is one of the most dominant intelligences. This group of people loves to use words and they think in words, which leaves them with a highly developed auditory or verbal skill set.

Linguistic learners generally like activities that incorporate words such as reading, telling stories, poetry, and word games. You can easily teach the Verbal group by getting them to say and see words.  This group thrives with lecture, computers, tape recorders, and other multimedia. Because of their passion in words, these types of learners seek careers such as authors, journalists, comedians, lawyers, teachers, and presenters.

Vernal learners are easily able to listen, speak, write, explain, and teach.

Logical/Mathematical 

The logical learning style is the second major school intelligence and this group of learners is great with reasoning and calculations. The Mathematical learners think conceptually and abstractly so they like to solves puzzles and to experiment.

The easiest way to reach logical learners is through investigations and mysteries, but you need to remember that they need to learn and form concepts before they are able to deal with details. Logical learners are naturally curious about how the world works and love to ask questions, which leads them into science professions such as engineers, scientists, economists, accountants, detectives, and other legal professions such as judges.

Musical Intelligence 

Musical intelligence is the first of the arts intelligences and includes learners that are sensitive to sounds and rhythms. This groups of learners generally study better when there is music or noise in the background, and learn best when lessons are spoken rhythmically.

To no surprise, musical learners are the musicians of the world and they generally grow up remembering melodies and singing and banging on everything. People dominant in this intelligence gravitate to careers in the music industry including composers, recording engineers, musicians, music teachers, or disc jockeys.

Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence 

The kinesthetic intelligence is the second arts intelligences and is also easy to spot because this group of learners is usually the people that cannot sit still because they use their body movements to learn. Since kinesthetic learners are always in motion, they have a keen sense of body awareness and they make gestures to emphasize. They learn best by participating in role-playing, hands-on learning, and other physical activity and they communicate through body language.

For many people, this intelligence usually does not show itself until later in life as many teachers think it is ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). Kinesthetic learners learn best when they have equipment and manipulatives available, so presenters should incorporate props to reach these learners. People of the kinesthetic learning style become athletes, dancers, physical educators, actors, crafty people, and surgeons.

Visual-Spatial Intelligence 

web_offer_banner_3_contentmarketingThe Visual-Spatial intelligence is the last arts intelligence and what most people picture when they think of “art”. This intelligence group thinks in terms of physical space and they are avid visualizers, as they think in pictures. They are extremely aware of their environment and they like to draw, use maps, and daydream.

The best way to teach Visual learners is through visual stimulus including verbal and physical imagery such as pictures, models, maps, videos, television, as well as multimedia, which can include graphs and charts.

Because of this group’s strong environmental awareness, Spatial learners have a keen sense of direction. To no surprise, many Visual-Spatial learners go into careers that create visuals and design spaces including architects, sailors, graphic designers, photographers, sculptors, and strategic planners.

Interpersonal Intelligence 

The interpersonal intelligence learners are the people who understand and easily interact with others as they empathize with others, and understand people’s motivations and goals. This group of learners is able to sense emotions and relate to the thoughts and feelings of others.

People with the Interpersonal intelligence usually have many friends and they also easily pick up “street smarts”. This group of learners does great when taught through workshops with group activities, seminars, and dialogs.

People of this intelligence are easily able to use the telephone, audio conferencing, and email. Interpersonal learners are great organizers and choose careers such as teachers, facilitators, therapists, politicians, and sales people.

Intrapersonal Intelligence

Although spelled similarly, Intrapersonal should not be confused with Interpersonal. People who have Intrapersonal intelligence are good at understanding their own interests and goals because they readily self-analyze and reflect. These people tend to shy away from others, though they are in tune with their inner feelings,  they are wise and use intuition and self-motivation well.

People with Intrapersonal intelligence have a strong will and confidence, lots of opinions, and are capable of making their own plans. Intrapersonal learners do best with independent study and introspection as well as diaries, privacy, and alone time. You may have already pictured that these learners are great at careers with critical thinking such as philosophers and counselors.

There are four additional intelligences (yet not official in the psychology community) – Naturalist intelligence, Spiritual intelligence, Existential Intelligence, and the Moral Intelligence.

Gardner always maintained that there are seven kinds of intelligence that allow for seven ways to teach rather than just one. All seven intelligences are needed to live life well and as presenters, we need to touch on all of the different intelligences, not just the two that have been used in traditional schooling.

Everyone is different and no two people have the same blend of intelligences; humans learn in many ways. As a presenter, you want to share your message with your audience, so it is your responsibility to take all of the learning styles into consideration when preparing your presentation to ensure everyone in your audience can comprehend and retain your message.

I go into much more detail about each learning style in my self-guided presentation curriculum, SpeakU.

Additional Resources

How Speak Simple Can Help You

Win more work, increasing your billing rate, and prospects coming to you are all results of being an excellent presenter. Erica Olson created Speak Simple to help technical professionals to become comfortable presenting and excel at each presentation, whether a bid presentation or an educational, content marketing presentation. Learn more about Speak Simple’s flagship program is SpeakU, a self-guided presentation training program.

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