Are you a visual learner?

One of the clichés I hear all the time in defense of slides, or in support of adding something visual to a presentation, is the claim that “I’m a visual learner.”  Back in the last century, a bit of pop science proclaimed that there are visual, aural, and kinesthetic learners, and each needed to be catered to.  In other words, teachers, speakers, and any one else who tries to communicate should speak to the aural learners, show pictures to the visual learners, and jump around for the kinesthetic learners.  

A great deal of bad pedagogy, not to mention visual aids, has been the result.  The science behind this idea was never any good, and subsequent brain research has thoroughly discredited it.  

Here’s the thing:  we are all visual learners.  By far the most important part of our brains taking in new stimuli is visual.  So the idea that there are three types of people, all of whom need special treatment when it comes to communicating, is simply wrong.  

Of course, there are individual variations in the speed and manner in which we learn new things, but we all learn roughly the same ways, and we all take in more information through the eye than in any other way.

What does that mean for speakers?  It means that your audience needs to be able to see you.  Really.  It’s that simple.  It also means that interacting with them visually is important – but that doesn’t necessarily mean a slide.  And it especially doesn’t mean a slide with words on it.  What it does mean is that anything you can offer to increase the visual richness of the experience you provide the audience is both welcome and likely to increase retention and power.  

So use props, slides, video, costumes, lighting, scenery – all the possible elements of stagecraft that the audience will experience visually.  And don’t ignore the opportunities that both sound and movement present, too, because we are all also aural and kinesthetic learners.  Just mostly visual.  

And don’t settle for a person standing behind a podium droning on about a subject to an audience.  Because that is not visually stimulating, not aurally interesting, and certainly not kinesthetically fascinating.  If you’re a podium speaker, it’s time to up your game and figure out how to put on a show.  

 

Comments

  1. says

    Thanks Chris –
    I really like your point that storytelling has a visual element — very true, and an important part of visual learning that people forget.

  2. says

    Great post. When I suggest that speakers don’t always have to use PowerPoint, I’m often told that using it is necessary because — you guessed it — so many people are visual learners.
    I love the phrase “all the possible elements of stagecraft.”
    I would add that storytelling has a visual as well as an auditory dimension to it. Good stories let us see with our imaginations.

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