III. REPRINT OF ARTICLE FROM DECEMBER 1999 ISSUE OF CONVENE:
What's YOUR Learning Style?
by Ronald Gross
Your conferees are pouring out of the ballroom after the opening plenary session. Naturally, you're dying to find out how it was received. So let's eavesdrop while they stand on the coffee line and discuss the keynote they have just attended...
"Frankly, I just couldn't see what it all added up to," says Don. "He never gave me the big picture. I would have liked some kind of road-map of where he was going ."
Joan jumps in: "I hear what you're saying, Don. I was really put off by his tone of voice -- he seemed to be so pleased with himself, and a little patronizing."
"Whoa, guys!," exclaims Phil, the youngest of the group. "I give him points for being specific -- those little case studies really clarified things for me. I always like a lot of specifics rather than a big build-up. "
"Hey, don't look at me," says Nancy. "I'm not even awake until I get that coffee in my paw!"
These attendees are each reacting to your keynoter in terms of their individual preferences in learning.
Every attendee -- including YOU -- has such preferences.
As a meeting planner, you need to know this -- and to do what you can to assure that every presenter, and your conference as a whole, responds to the different "styles" among your conferees.
It can be done -- much more effectively than currently done by 95% of speakers at your conferences.
Let's do an instant replay of our three conferees waiting for their coffee, to see what we can discern about how they like to learn.
Don used visual metaphors: "I just couldn't SEE...He never gave me the big PICTURE...I like a ROAD-MAP." About 40% of your attendees prefer to get information through their eyes -- visually. They're the ones who benefit most from well-done charts, diagrams, and graphics.
Joan is an auditory learner -- she prefers to listen. "I HEAR what you're saying...I was put off by his TONE OF VOICE." Joan likes to rely on what she hears, both to take in information and to make judgments about it.
Phil is a "bottom-up" learner -- he likes to start with concrete specifics: "Those case studies clarified things...I like specifics." Other attendees are "top-down" learners: they want an overall framework, "the big picture," before being open to the 'fer-instances."
Nancy's an "owl," not a "lark". It takes her four or five hours to reach her peak of energy for the day -- but she's terrific at lunch, and you'll probably find her buzzing at one of the "night-flight" sessions in the bar after the conference has shut down for the day.
Of course, these aren't water-tight categories -- each of these attendees can take in information in all of these modes, and several others we'll mention below. Don is most stimulated by the visual elements of the presentation, but he certainly understands what is being said. Phil responds most actively to the vignettes, but takes in the subsequent generalizations.
Each of them -- and each of us -- has a definite preference. That preference is the "way in" to our brains -- the mode of communication which puts us into our "comfort zone." When a presentation pushes that button, we open up to the speaker. We "get with it" faster, and with more interest.
But if your audience contains each of these different types, how can you reach them all? There are powerful strategies to use, which we'll discuss at the end of this article. But the best way to become more sensitive to these differences, is to explore them in yourself. So let's look at YOUR learning style? How do YOU prefer to take in, process, and use new knowledge?
Helping Your Attendees
If your audience contains each of these different types, how can you reach them all? There are three powerful strategies you can use.
1. Teach Around the Brain: Each of your presenters should endeavor to "teach around the brain." They can do this by using several different modes of communication during their presentation: visual, oral, concrete, general, analytic, imaginative.
Top speakers do this automatically. A professional speaker might start with a vivid anecdote, use some colorful slides or video, and sum up with powerfully phrased slogans or principles.
2. Give Your Sessions "Style": Different sessions at your conference can and should appeal to different styles -- and it can't hurt to let people, in the Program, what the emphasis will be. Is a given session a "sage on the stage" lecture? An inter-active discussion with plenty of participation? A data-rich presentation of research findings? A multi-media extravaganza of slides, music, and video?
3. Get Them Style-Savvy: You can offer your conferees
an opportunity to become more aware of their personal learning
styles -- and how to capitalize on them to maximize their benefits
from your conference. In a 50-70 minute session conferees can
do, discuss, and apply the kinds of quizzes you've sampled in
They will use their new sophistication to learn faster, easier, and better -- throughout your conference.