Preparing To Present? Eight Learning Principles To Master

Another Expert Opinion About Modern Life

Most of us think we know how to present.

Actually, we know how to talk! And talk, talk, talk, is what we do.

Yet, few of us really know how to learn.

Changing Attitudes And Behaviors Or Killing Time

If your goal is for your audience to hear what you have to say, keep on talking.

If your goal is for your audience to learn, then you need to stop talking so much. And you need to let your audience do more of the talking to each other.

You have to decide if your presentation is to explain something or you want attitude, behavior and skill changes. If it’s the later, just talking at your audience won’t work.

Eight Adult Learning Principles

Here are eight adult learning principles grounded in neuroscience and andragogy, the study of how adults learn, that can help guide your presentation.

1. Principle of Active Learning

Active participation through discussion, feedback and activities creates more learning than passive listening or reading. As a presenter, find ways to reduce the amount of content covered and allow the participants to discuss the content with each other.

2. Principle of Problem-Centric

Adults come to your presentation expecting to get their problems solved. They are not there just to get more information. If your presentation does not help them solve their pressing issues, it will be forgotten. Adults are problem-centric, not content-centric.

3. Principle of Previous Experience

New information has to be linked to previous knowledge and experience or it will not be remembered. Allow participants time to discuss with each other how the new information connects with what they already know. As a speaker, sometimes you may need to help them see the connections.

4. Principle of Relevance

If the information being presented is not relevant to the listener’s life and work, it will not get their attention. As a speaker, your content must have meaning and immediate relevance. If your concepts are complicated or difficult to understand, the listeners will lose attention.

5. Principle of Emotional Connection

Presentations that connect with a learner’s emotions are more likely to be remembered, recalled and learned. Fear is not a good motivating factor for learning as it causes the brain to react in a fight or flight syndrome. Fear actually hampers real learning. As a speaker, debrief participants after emotional stories or experiences so that they can reflect and learn from their feelings.

6. Principle of Self Learning

Adult learners have some strong beliefs about how they learn. These beliefs, whether accurate or not, can interfere or enhance their learning. As a speaker, always explain why the audience should participate in specific activity and how the process as well as content benefits their learning.

7. Principle of Alignment

Adults expect that a presenter’s content, learning outcomes and activities are aligned together. If the learning outcomes do not match the content, the learner feels disconnected and learning is hampered. If the learning activity seems childish or forced, learning is lost.

8. Principle of Fun

Learning should be fun! As a presenter, if you are not having fun presenting your information and facilitating learning, then you should stop. By all means, make learning fun, enjoyable and filled with laughter!

Which of these principles resonate with your personal experiences? What additional principles would you add to the list?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
  1. Scott says:

    Hi Jeff,

    I’m curious do you have a source for these principles or is this something you synthesized yourself.

    I agree with all of them. Although for larger auditorium events, Active Learning is challenging. I once went to a 1000 person event where the speaker tried to get us to break into small groups during the talk. It was a disaster.

    Hmm, I’d also add that learning should be multi-modal to accomodate all types of learners and intelligences: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. I guess you can group multi-modal learning and targeting multiple intelligences into one of your categories above, but for me its important enough to break out separately.

    thanks for sharing,


    1. Jeff Hurt says:


      Thanks for reading and commenting. Really appreciate it.

      My formal training is in education and andragogy, the study of how adults learn, and I’ve been applying it to the conference, meetings, events and training fields for years. I can give you tons of resources for all of these. Here are some to start with:
      Professor Malcolm S. Knowles The Adult Learner (Knowles is the father of andragogy).
      Dr. John Medina, Brain Rules: 12 Principles For Surviving & Thinking At Work, Home And School (
      Dr. Ruth Colvin Clark, Evidenced Based Training Methods
      Dr. Daniel Willingham, Why Don’t Students Like School.

      I’ve done active engagement in large ballroom settings of 12,000 people before so it can be done. It’s really about the right type of facilitation and activity. I have a couple exercises that work well with 200 to 10,000 folks that doesn’t cause havoc. Google “Pair Squared” activity for directions on a simple one that works in general sessions.

      As for visual, auditory and kinesthetic…well, I used to be an avid Learning Styles and VAK fan, advocate and presenter. Taught that stuff for years. Then, I had to unlearn all of it as neuroscience and today’s research proved it to be inaccurate and not based on scientific data. Letting go of learning styles is a tough one for people to swallow…I’ve written about it here a lot though. You’ll also see three of the above authors talking about it in detail.

      Thanks again.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, the last one is one of the most important. Learning should be fun and good time for both the participants and the presenter.

  2. Elaine Fogel says:

    Excellent advice here, Jeff, especially #10. I couldn’t do speaking without having a good time and giving participants an opportunity to do the same.

  3. I really appreciate you sharing this stuff, Jeff.

    @Scott, great question. Thanks for asking it and prompting Jeff to give insight on his background, influences, experiences and info sources.

    Food for thought: Ever notice how today’s highest paid, most experienced (often formally trained) speakers focus exclusively on #5 and #8? (to the exclusion of other principles)

    Or maybe I’m just crazy.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:


      Interesting observation about highest paid speakers…having personally hired my share of them, including marquee names…it’s not always about their presentation skills. Famous people that are paid high fees to speak frequently have very poor presentation skills. Often the audience is forgiving because their star power eclipses the poor presentation.

      Being a good orator is not the same thing as being a good presenter that results in learning or recall. Just because you’re a good story teller connecting to a person’s emotions does not automatically translate into learning.

  4. […] If the information being presented is not relevant to the listener’s life and work, it will not get their attention. As a speaker, your content must have meaning and immediate relevance. If your concepts are complicated or difficult to understand, the listeners will lose attention. Read full article via […]

  5. Hey, Jeff… thanks for the additional thoughts. I was specifically thinking about “motivational speakers” not celebs, sorry should have specified. The highest paid speakers are, indeed, celebs (political, business) but my comments are reserved to the $15-30k type of speakers who do a fine job at what they do yet, in my opinion, do not leave you with much more than momentary motivation/inspiration that fades away within hours (or at best days) in many cases. For what it’s worth…

  6. Michael Townsend says:

    Public speaking is an art that should be practiced over and over again. Steve Jobs was a great presenter because of the enthusiasm he put into his presentations. Although following these principles will help the overall presentation, the speaker needs to be confident in what they are saying. Many people, whether the thought of speaking scares them, will still freeze when put on stage or in front of people.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

      I like to make a differentiation between public speaking (lecturing) and presenting with learning in mind. It’s true that many people fear speaking or presenting in front of others. Practice definitely helps. Like you said, it’s really about being confident in yourself, your content and your delivery.

  7. […] Speaker Chat – 9:00pm – #speakchat – Discuss everything from learning principals to creating awesome PowerPoint […]

  8. […] Speaker Chat – 9:00pm ET – #speakchat – Discuss everything from learning principals to creating awesome PowerPoint […]

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *