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Giving learning styles a great big virtual squeeze.

Emma Collins, Client Relationship Director, talks about lockdown, home-schooling, learning styles and how we can apply everything we’ve learnt to virtual events.

We are now in the third week of England’s third lockdown and I, like much of the population, am juggling a full-time job with the management of home-schooling for three children. The bounce between client video calls, the 8 times table, Ancient Egypt and the ‘reporting clause’ has had me in a bit of a tailspin on many a day over the last few weeks.   What is a reporting clause again??

It got me thinking about my own relationship with learning and how important it is for me to see pictures or videos to help me land the logic and bring it to life.  Everyone’s path on the road to learning is different, what works for one is abhorrent to another. Most people’s ability to retain information fall within at least one of seven types of learning styles – visual, aural, verbal, physical, logical, social, and solitary.

Discussing this with my 70-year-old mother she told me “Both of my English teacher’s parents were deaf, and therefore from a very early age in his quest for understanding, knew the importance of effective communication.  Crucially for him of course, with audible stimulation being absent from his ability to communicate with his parents, he relied on both visual and tactile aids.  He was therefore adept at using these methods to keep his unruly students interested in his subject to the point where we actually learned something!  This is why he was so successful, not only as a teacher, but also generally as a communicator.”

My observations and discussions with my own family about our different learning styles has reinforced a deeper passion for me to ensure that we as communicators in the business world embrace and consider these different styles, particularly through the virtual medium.   Ensuring that we land a message by constantly challenging ourselves to ensure that we have embraced how every participator digests and engages with the information they are receiving. 

For me, this returns full circle to what we all keep hearing – content is king, now more than ever.  In fact, content IS your event.  If you have experienced a webinar for example – how long did you stay engaged past the seemingly endless speaker introductions and “Let me tell you about our company” messages?  If the agenda wasn’t compelling or the presenter is dull, we’re gone, right?  I may look at slides or a video later when I can fast-forward to my heart’s content, but that’s 50-50 at best.

With virtual events—before, during, and after the event— you need to put the content into the frying pan and don’t take it out until it’s golden and juicy.  Perhaps thinking like a journalist – get the important information up front.  Punch up the headlines.  We have between 7 and 15 seconds to capture an audience’s attention.  That’s less than the 20 seconds you should spend washing your hands according to COVID-19 experts.  So, how do you create or adjust your content to appeal to your audience and ensure that they leave thinking, feeling and ready to act differently? Giving their learning style a great big virtual squeeze!  The same should apply for our children who are sat hour after hour in their online lessons listening to their teacher, trying to understand the Pythagoras theory.

Make it personal and tell a story.

This doesn’t mean speakers should tell jokes—they often fall flat anyway—but they should supplement delivered content with anecdotes or personal experiences that illustrate key points – story telling is extremely powerful as it stimulates a personal connection and the imagination to land the message.  Audiences that relate to the speaker are more likely to enjoy the presentation and find value.

Bring your content to life and get the delegates involved.

Plan sessions with participant interaction in mind by planning a variety of presentation methods and leveraging technology for live streaming, video, chats, polling, quizzes, whiteboards, and even gamification.  Since it is often EASIER to relate to a speaker in a virtual presentation (everyone can see better than they could in the front row at a physical event), keep the speaker on the screen as much as practical.  I do love PowerPoint, and it can be used in moderation, but it should not be the default method of presentation. Panel discussions are inherently more interactive and, as such, are a good choice for virtual events.  As a result, they can be a bit longer—perhaps 45-60 minutes.  But it’s even more important to have a good host and a great platform to funnel questions to the right speaker at the right time, keep things on track, and watch the time.

Keep it short and sweet

Did you know our attention span is significantly shorter in the virtual space? A keynote speech, which might have been an hour or more at a live event, should be cut to 15-30 minutes for a virtual event.  This imposes a need for clarity and focus yet allows enough time to convey key ideas.  Individual sessions, often more detailed than a keynote, should be cut as well.  About 30 minutes might be a reasonable target, less if the topic warrants.  Remove the fluff and cut to the chase.  Focus on information that will create an “aha!” moment for participants, giving them ideas to “take home”—on demand, that is.

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