Learning styles matter. I once had a student who struggled with writing organized speech outlines. He’d be covering the history of the company one moment, then jump to their current sales stats, then go back to their history. It was a jumbled mess. I set up an appointment for us to discuss the outline issues he was having.

For 15 minutes I explained the concepts of organization and main points. I told him how it helps the audience when information is grouped together and the speech has a discernable flow. But he just wasn’t getting it.

In a moment of desperation, I took out 3 different colored highlighters and began highlighting all of the stuff about the company’s history in yellow. Then I moved on to highlighting the information about their business structure in pink. Finally, I highlighted current company statistics and sales strategies in green. When I got done, the outline was a colorful mixture of yellow, pink, and green. “See how confusing it is to look at these colors mixed up? You’ve got to get all the yellow together, all the pink together, and all the green together so that your audience can make sense of the information you are covering.”

It was like a lightbulb went off. It wasn’t his fault he hadn’t understood previously, it was mine. I had used only one teaching strategy, and it wasn’t his learning style. When I stopped trying to lecture him and instead tapped into his need to process information visually, it finally clicked.

When we get up to speak in front of an audience, we are hoping to convey information or shape opinions or garner support. And the better we understand the human brain and how we learn, the more effectively we can accomplish those goals. The advancing field of neuroscience has bolstered what we know about how the brain learns, so this week on the Ethos3 blog we’ll look at some of that research. There are over 70 different learning-theory models, but we’ll concentrate on just a couple of them. Let’s start by looking at the most commonly used model which covers the 3 learning styles: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic.


People with this learning style process things by hearing them. Their ears are their primary form of input. In fact, an auditory learner might close his eyes to focus just on his sense of sound. So a speech or lecture is ideal for this type of learner.

But this doesn’t mean you can just string any words together in any order and they will make sense. You still need to develop strong content and organize your ideas in ways that make the most sense for your listeners. Even if you have an audience full of auditory learners, you still need variety in your presentation. You can vary the type of content you use like moving from statistics into a story. Or you can use different auditory experiences, such as incorporating other sounds or voices.


If you have trouble listening to audiobooks, like to doodle when listening to someone speak, or find it difficult to understand instructions when someone reads them to you, you are probably a visual learner. So how can presenters cater to visual learners?

Visual learners uses their eyes as their primary input source. They might need to listen to white noise while they read to block out other background auditory input. It will probably bore a visual learner to simply listen to a speaker. To capture visual learners, you want to make sure to include presentation media in the form of graphics, dry erase boards, slides, and videos that help to visually support and reinforce the ideas you are presenting orally. Just writing a statistic on the board while also saying it can help a visual learner. Converting information into an infographic can help as well.


Some people do best in a more active learning environment. Kinesthetic learners need a deeper level of engagement. They often like to process information through movement or manipulation.

It might seem like a presentation isn’t conducive for this type of learner, but it can be. Try incorporating group discussion in which people have to move to reorient themselves or engage with others. Or ask for a few volunteers to help you illustrate something—kinesthetic learners will usually be the first hands up.

Varied Presentations

In 2009, the University of Illinois Extension found that 80% of instruction is delivery orally. But the Social Science Research Network found that about 65% of us are visual learners.These discrepancies in how we are presenting and how we learn should challenge us and should change the way we present. In the fields of instruction and public speaking, we have to keep striving to appeal to different learning styles with more varied presentations.

Not sure which learning style you are? Try this quick assessment. And once you’ve figured out your learning style, get in touch with us at Ethos3 to learn more about who you are as a speaker and how we can help you prepare for your next big presentation.


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