Think about the crazy amount of webinars and presentations you’ve seen in the past year. How many have truly stuck with you? Why do you think so many fall flat? Take a minute to think about that.
Those of us born before 1990 or so probably were taught in much the same manner: in teacher-led classes heavy on discussion. In our youths there was basically one style of teaching, with many variations on that one style. But psychologists in the 1980’s began to change the way we think about thinking. They started to understand that humans process and learn in different ways: Everyone has strengths + weaknesses, there’s no one-size-fits-all way to learn, and individualized learning plans are key.
Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences
In 1983 a man named Howard Gardner published his Theory of Multiple Intelligences, which postulates that people do not have a single intellectual capacity, but rather a range of abilities that work and learn in conjunction with each other. He identified eight original intelligences:
- Visual: Drawn to visual and spatial imagery, known for three-dimensional thinking
- Linguistic: Enjoys words, writing, language, rhetoric, and persuasion
- Logical-Mathematical: Adept at reasoning, logical thinking, math, and analysis
- Kinesthetic: Learns through hands-on experience and physical movement
- Musical: Likes to find rhythms and create music and harmonies
- Interpersonal: Likes to relate to the feelings, needs, and purposes of others
- Intrapersonal: Learns best via introspection and self-reflection
- Natural: Seeks relationships to nature, likes patterns and classifications
This may sound obvious now — in a time where we’ve become accustomed to the idea of individualized learning plans — but this was revolutionary back then. (And still is, kinda, given that the predominant measure of intelligence is still the Intelligence Quotient, or IQ test.) But Gardner’s theory gave teachers an understanding of how to reach more students. They simply needed to make sure every lesson incorporates every intelligence.
So what does this have to do with presentations?
There’s no rule that says only students need individual learning, while those of us in the working world do not. Aren’t we all just overgrown students? No matter what kind of job you do, you’ll find that everyone still processes things differently, there’s still no one-size-fits-all way to learn, and individualized learning plans are still key.
Yet if you Google how to make your presentations more engaging, the results recommend things like using good body posture, talking with your hands, starting with an ice breaker, and telling personal stories — All very important things, but what’s missing?
The presenter is only half the equation.
Let’s go back to our starter question: Think about all the presentations you’ve seen in the past year. Why do so many fall flat? Here’s the answer.
Presentations often fall flat because they don’t allow for the various learning styles of the people in the audience. They’re created with one person’s learning style in mind: The presenter.
To engage every member of your audience, presenters should incorporate all eight intelligences into the presentations. They don’t each have to be grand gestures, but consider how you can reframe your content to fit every learning style. After all, what’s the point of even doing your presentation if it doesn’t stick with the viewers? A bit of extra effort to make sure your content is engaging and digestible for all types of learners will go a long way. (It might even help you become a more confident presenter.)
Which intelligences fit you? You can probably guess with accuracy just by looking at the list above, but here’s a quiz to help you learn more. And once you understand how you learn best, you’ll be better equipped to modify your presentations to fit other learning styles.
If you need a head start, below are some ways we’ve thought of to incorporate the eight intelligences to your presentations. Please help us add to our list — Send us your ideas via Twitter here.