Our Ability To Learn Has Deep Roots In Our Ability To Talk To Others

Styven Magnes : Speech balloons

Listening is often the only thing attendees do in formal learning environments.

Speakers talk. Audiences listen.

They listen to keynote speakers at conferences. They listen to presenters in workshops. They listen to industry speakers in education sessions. They listen to staff in HR trainings.

The truth is that all that listening amounts to very little learning or change in attitudes, behaviors and skills.

Talking Is More Important Than Listening

Listening should actually be the smallest part of the entire learning process.

Sure, listening is part of collaboration, communication, cooperation and learning. But it should be the smallest part of the learning process.

To learn best, attendees should listen and watch, write and talk, demonstrate and practice. Then they should teach what they have learned to someone else!

It is when they start talking about what they heard that real learning occurs. It is when they process the information out loud to others that we can identify if they have mastered understanding of the content. It is when they start reflecting on how to apply the content that change starts happening. It is when they restate the information to others in their own words that they begin to master the material.

In short, it’s when they are talking with others about the content that the learning process begins.

The rule of thumb is that the person doing the most talking is doing the most learning. Unfortunately, that’s often the speaker instead of the attendee!

If learning is the goal, then we need to shift from the presenter doing the most talking to allow the attendee plenty of time to talk, process and learn.

Five Strategies To Allow More Attendee Talking

Education attendees understand, remember more and learn better when they talk about what they are hearing. As stated previously, the person doing the most talking at your education program, does the most learning.

Here are the five strategies to help your speakers shift from doing all the talking to allow attendees to do more learning.

1. Stop Talking!

It’s the most simple yet most challenging thing a speaker will have to do. Most speakers are too concerned with covering all of their content that the attendee’s learning is overlooked. Remind speakers that the longer they talk, the less the audience learns.

Speakers only have to stop talking for two to five minutes, several times during their presentation. This is just enough time to give the audience an opportunity to discuss what you’ve shared. This is also important so that the speaker can gauge if the audience understands the content.

2. Use Low-Risk Activities

A low-risk activity is when an attendee collaborates with another participant to answer questions. High-risk exercises are when an attendee has to answer a question in front of the audience. Most attendees do not want to be put on the spot. So use more peer to peer or triad questioning strategies.

3. Pairs And Triads Trump Large Group Discussions

Do the math. When a speaker asks the entire audience a question, only one person answers while everyone else listens. When the speaker encourages pairs, triads or small groups to discuss the question, everyone gets involved in answering the question.

4. Two Before You

When an attendee asks a speaker a question, often others in the audience know the answer. A good rule of thumb presenters should follow is, two before you. Let two other attendees respond to the question first. Speakers can say, “We need two or more responses before continuing. Who has an answer?” After hearing the responses, the speaker can add more context.

5. Avoid Yes/No Questions With Open Ended Questions

Yes/no or agree/disagree questions are not very challenging for the brain. Use more open ended questions to stimulate discussions. Examples include:

  • How does this compare to what you are already doing?
  • What are barriers that keep you from applying this information and how can you avoid them?
  • What are the benefits of implementing this information?
  • What are two items you plan to change because of this information?
  • What are three things you now know that you didn’t know before this session?
  • How would you explain this content to a coworker that did not attend this session?

Thinking about what you now know about talking being an important part of the learning process, how will you use this information in your education and conference planning process? How can we help presenters shift from speaker monologues to attendee dialogues?

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  1. Ian Adams says:

    Using low risk activities is smart. I’ve noticed by breaking off into smaller groups and posing a question to be discussed amongst them is a very effective way to improve retention. If everyone shares their opinion on materials discussed in a presentation it allows for additional perspective and demands each individual to reflect on how it has impacted their own personal experiences. Nice post Jeff.

  2. Janet Cave Seely says:

    I might suggest another way to phrase the “two responses” question. Instead of “We need two or more responses before continuing. Who has an answer?”, I would suggest, “I’d like to hear from the audience on that question. Can anyone provide an answer?” Just another take on the approach.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and adding some insight. I agree that there are a lot of ways to ask the question. I will typically not even say, “I want two audience responses before moving forward.” Instead, one someone asks a question, I’ll turn to the audience and say, who has some experience or advice for her. I’ll do it twice before adding my own commentary. I think it’s a good rule of thumb to follow to allow the experts in the room to share their experience for sure.

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