Presentations with Something for Everyone

When you prepare your next presentation, keep in mind that individuals generally fall into one of three learning-style categories: visual, auditory, or kinesthetic

Business professionals across industries are using December to prepare presentations for January and the coming months. Whether intended for employee meetings or conferences, new business pitches, or product rollouts, there's a whole lot of preparation going on. To make your presentation stand out from the crowd's, try to deliver a compelling message that captures your entire audience. While you prepare, keep in mind that individuals generally fall into one of three learning-style categories: visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. Since the group you address will be made up of individuals who retain information in these different ways, offering something in your presentation for each should help you win over the entire room!

Visual Learners

About 40% of us are visual learners—people who learn through seeing. This group retains information that is highly visual. Creating a presentation loaded with images like photos, graphics, and simple but colorful charts will go a long way toward holding your audience's attention and helping members absorb information. Remember, individuals are more likely to act on information they feel a connection with, but they can't connect with anything they haven't internalized.

The other day in my local newspaper I read about a woman who successfully persuaded her neighbors and city council to review a proposed timber harvesting campaign in a nearby forest. She used images from Google Earth (GOOG) (the search engine's satellite mapping service) to give her audience a strong visual of just how much land would be affected, and how close the area was to their town. The woman, Rebecca Moore, had actually had a hand in developing Google Earth and understood its impact.

According to Scott Herhold of the San Jose Mercury News, "When Moore showed the flyover on a big screen to neighbors who packed a community meeting, it had a huge impact, showing how large the logging area is and how close to schools and homes. 'I essentially flew everyone up the Los Gatos Creek canyon,' she told me. 'It just electrified the room.' " The visual was so striking that former Vice-President Al Gore came out against the project after he saw it. Visual images, when used correctly and at appropriate times, can make a far stronger impact on some people than words alone.

Auditory Learners

These people learn through listening. They represent the second most sizable group of learners, estimated at 20% to 30%. These are the individuals who benefit the most from powerful words and stories. When I first begin working with clients as a communications coach, few use personal stories in their presentation arsenal. Yet stories are what many respond to the most. A "personal" story doesn't necessarily have to be about yourself. You can tell stories about customers and how they benefit from your product, service, or company.

For example, Cisco Systems (CSCO) has a successful new marketing and advertising campaign that is based on stories from individuals about how the Internet is changing their lives, and how they are using the Web to improve the lives of others (see, 10/11/06, "How Cisco's CEO Works the Crowd"). People respond to stories because they make the message relevant.

In addition to stories, use devices like analogies and metaphors, as well as tangible examples, facts, and figures to deliver the message. The most compelling presentations often include most, if not all, of these elements. Since auditory learners pay close attention to language, you should pay attention to the way you deliver the message as well. Vary your pitch, the speed at which you speak, and your volume (see, 5/16/06, "To Be a Leader, Talk Like One"). An engaging delivery will help your auditory listeners retain the information.

Kinesthetic Learners

This group of people learns by doing, moving, and touching. In short, they're "hands-on." They get bored listening for long periods of time. So include activities in your presentation to keep them engaged. If the group is small enough, get them to write down their ideas or develop a part of the presentation that lends itself to note-taking. In a larger forum, structure simple activities like asking questions and getting people to raise their hands.

Demonstrations are also great for kinesthetic learners. I remember helping a chief executive officer and his team prepare a presentation for a pre-initial-public-offering "road show," in which they planned to pitch their company to investors. This particular company designed computer chips that significantly enhanced the audio in laptops. As part of the demo, we decided to pass around an example of a standard-size existing chip-set and the much smaller one this company was now manufacturing. That way, investors could see and touch the actual product that most consumers would never see. At the end of the demonstration, the presenters played music from a laptop installed with the new chip, pulling in the auditory learners as well.

In my speeches, I include something for all types of learners. During a 45-minute speech, my audience will hear stories, watch video, and engage in discussion based on my questions. At the end of the speech, it's easy to figure out who falls into which learning groups. The visual learners will thank me for the video clips, the auditory learners will thank me for the stories, and the kinesthetic learners will thank me for the opportunity to get involved. Win over your audience by touching all the bases and providing something for everybody!