4 Ways to Engage Your Audience

Author Candie Blankman

 Your Audience Has More Than Ears

Are you a doodler? As you listen to a friend or sit in a meeting listening to people talk do you find yourself drawing or writing? Are you a clicker? Are you one of those people who click their pen or tap it on your notebook, or fiddle with the buttons on your shirt or beads on your necklace? Or maybe you are one of those people that need to move. You are tapping your feet, drumming with your fingers, twirling your pencil or pen.  Then of course there are those who can just sit quietly without moving and listen for hours. What is up with those peeps?!

Communicators need to ask “what’s up” with all of their listeners. The people in our audiences have different primary ways of listening and learning. Educators must pay attention to these learning styles to maximize learning. Communicators need to do the same to maximize our message being received and acted on–learned.  Here are the four styles of learning that impact how well people can listen.

1. Auditory

These are the people we love to talk to! They are transfixed by the sound of our voices and their faces are attentive and responsive. They learn best by hearing. Hurray for these folks! But research reveals this is not the majority of our listeners. And let’s not rest on their auditory laurels, anyway. As communicators we need to give them an auditory smorgasbord. Changing tone and pace and volume often keeps everyone more interested. And when it is done with a clear plan and purpose ordinary communication can become extraordinary inspiration. A dignified adult speaker taking on the voice of a small belligerent child can pull back an audience on the verge of mutiny!

2. Visual

These are people who need to see what you are saying. The very creative visual learners can imagine what things you are talking about look like. These are some of the people in your audience who look like they are day dreaming but are actually visualizing something you have said. Others of course are actually day dreaming. You have lost them. But to maximize the possibility of keeping your visual learners attending or getting them back you can offer them something to see as you speak. With the internet and technology today there are millions of creative ways of doing this. Photos, video clips, small props, and creative body language can all be easily incorporated to engage your visual audience.

3. Tactile

These folks take a little more work and forethought. If you don’t give them something to touch they will find something. Better for the successful delivery of your message if you can provide something that will keep them thinking about what you are saying while they are using their tactile senses.  For instance, give an audience small stones as they enter the room. When you are talking about the richness of diversity of people you can create a lasting tactile reinforcement of your message as each listener manipulates their own unique stone.  And as they see the stones of others near them they have a tactile and visual experience of how varied the stones are in their size, shape and color. Voila! You have a tactile example of your message. And, you have a tactile listener in the palm of your hand. Well, the tactile listener has an example of your message in the palm of their hand, anyway.

4. Kinesthetic

This is an extension of the tactile way of learning sometimes called tactile-kinetic. It revolves around motion.  Kinesthetic learners need to move around and experience what you are saying. These are the folks who do not want to be told how to do something. They want to actually try doing it! Alas, in many of our speaking forums this is not always possible. But it is possible to give small opportunities to move and experience the message we are giving. For example, instead of just describing how hard it is for most folks to touch their toes, let your audience actually stand up and try! Besides moving around a bit they will be energized by the sounds and sights of some who can and some who can’t. If you do not provide ways for kinesthetic learners to move they will find a way—often by getting up and leaving the room. This is a clear sign of failed communication.

A couple of times I have actually attempted to construct a talk or sermon using these four learning styles as the parts of a presentation. One such sermon was on understanding forgiveness. The sermon had four parts each employing one of the learning styles in order to maximize understanding forgiveness for the varied learning styles. The sermon had a song (auditory), a video clip (visual), an explanation when the audience wrote something on a post it note (tactile), and an opportunity where they were invited to come forward and place the post-it note on a cross at the front of the sanctuary (kinesthetic). This is pretty straightforward and simple. But the possibilities are endless with creative planning.

One style might dominate a particular talk or presentation and another might use all four. But a communicator that wants to be effective will respect all of these learning styles and create a smorgasbord of ways for listeners to receive and act on the message.
Can you recall a talk or presentation when you were especially drawn because the speaker had you doing something more than listening? What did the speaker do? And how did it help you listen?

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Candie Blankman is a pastor, storyteller, speaker, painter, and speaking coach dedicated to excellence in communication and to inspiring audiences of one or a thousand.

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