From Panic To Calm: Strategies To Help Presenters Leverage Adult Learning Principles

Panic! At The disco

You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain! ~ Jerry Lee Lewis

This is how many speakers feel when they are asked to adopt good adult learning principles in their presentations. Their heart beat races as their fear increases.

Making Presentations Stick

Applying good adult learning principles is actually easier than you think.

The biggest challenge is decreasing the time spent covering the content. The dilemma is whittling the content down to its most important points and then allowing participants to discuss them. Ultimately, shifting from covering content to fostering learning can eliminate a huge burden from the presenter’s shoulders of having to get through all the information.

Here are six presenter strategies to apply good adult learning principles.

1. Remember learning is a process not an end result.

Your audience did not walk away from your traditional presentations having learned and memorized everything you said. They had to think about it. They had to consider how it applied to them. The general rule of thumb is the more content your cover, the more they forget. Remember, learning is a process, not the result of just listening to you. Your job is to help facilitate that process.

2. Step out of your comfort zone.

As a presenter, you are probably most comfortable talking at your audience. It feels right. It feels safe. Yet, ultimately, it is not the best thing to do for your audience. Challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone. Experiment with non-traditional learning formats and participant involvement. Your learners will let you know what works and what doesn’t.

3. The person doing the most talking is doing the most learning.

When we share our thoughts with others, we are thinking about the content, speaking it out loud and then hearing ourselves talk. We are processing that information three times. That’s why speakers learn the content better than anyone else. Shift that experience and let the audience do most of the talking with each other.

4. Empowerment is connected at the hip with engagement.

Want to empower your audience to use your content successfully? Then aim for learner engagement, not activity perfection. If your goal is for your audience to complete some activities correctly, you are aiming for perfection. If an activity does not go as planned, remember it can still be a powerful learning experience for your audience.

5. Chunk it, don’t hunk it.

Divide your content into ten-minute chunks. Then insert a short discussion or reflection activity between chunks so that the audience can process it. The more content that you hunk together because you feel you have to cover the content, the more they will forget.

6. Give participants the right to pass.

Your audience needs a psychological safety net in order to step out of their comfort zone and try new things. Let them know that whenever an activity or peer discussion occurs, they have the right to pass. They can choose to observe instead of participate.

Here’s a tip. Just giving attendees that right helps them feel safe with you. Most won’t even feel the need to pass. Some might and once they feel comfortable, they will join the group.

What barriers keep speakers from implementing good adult learning principles? As an attendee, what would you say to a speaker to encourage them to adopt audience engagement?

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  1. Bob Rowell says:

    Fine post, excellent points. You are quite right in suggesting that they are too infrequently practiced, and deliciously correct in your question about the barriers.

    One barrier is lack of a model for these presentation methods. Another is expectations–both what the presenter thinks ought to be, and the presenter’s belief of what the audience or the organizer expects. A third you pointed out: presenters’ craving to pack as much information in as they possibly can. This is associated, perhaps, with a lack of rigor in identifying the key points.

    Reducing the barriers is a vital step toward getting people to use these ideas.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for eloquently pointing out three barriers presenters have when engaging their audiences to learn. Well said!

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