A couple years ago I saw an article about a 3-minute TED talk, “How to tie your shoes.” I was pretty sure I knew how to tie my shoes. Nope. You’ll want to check out the talk to see what we are all doing wrong.

Here’s what happened when I did, and I’ll bet you’ll have exactly the same experience:

  • I read the transcript of the talk – and didn’t really get it.
  • I watched the talk, and saw the demonstration of the new approach – and I thought I got it – but then I tried it and failed.
  • I watched again, pausing the video at each step, while I followed along and practiced doing it – and then I got it.

But I realized later that by having first read and watched the idea, I picked it up more quickly than if I had simply started by trying to do it.

This all came to mind because I’ve been reading some of the articles you also may have read – citing recent studies that have debunked the notion of “Preferred Learning Styles”. In a nutshell, a slew of recent research has shown that people do not learn more effectively when they are learning in their “preferred” style.

Now, there’s good news and bad news here for us as communicators. The good news is that, as a communicator, you no longer have to worry about diagnosing your audience’s learning style in advance and then customizing the message to make it fit.

But here’s the bad news – ALL of us learn in ALL styles. We all learn by hearing, seeing, and doing. And so, to communicate most effectively, you have to tap into as many of those as you can. The more you can combine all three in your communication, the more likely it will be internalized.

So whether it is teaching someone to tie their shoes, be a better spouse, do their job more efficiently, or whatever, do not default to focusing on a single learning style. Understand what is the key idea they need to internalize – then find a way to tell them the idea (auditory learning), show them the idea (visual learning), and have them do something physical (kinesthetic learning) to drive that idea home.

It’s not only more fun, but your audiences will be much more likely to remember your lesson when they need to apply it.

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