A Need to Think
FRONT OF THE ROOM – Brian Lange
It’s about impacting what learners think, believe or choose to do differently.
Every now and then I come across something — an overheard phrase, a movie quote or something I’ve read — and it sticks in my mind. Sometimes right up front, sometimes quietly in the background … but, it’s there. Calling to me, nudging, provoking. Several weeks ago I came across another such item, and it has been working its magic on me … and ultimately earned a spot as the focus of this column:
“Learning is a consequence of thinking, not teaching” – Ron Carucci in Harvard Business Review, October 29, 2018.
When we present to audiences, we very naturally focus on sharing our information … and we consider the myriad ways in which we can get it across effectively. We scrutinize our slides for clarity (hopefully!), and strive to make certain we include enough background and supporting information to make our case. And, we usually ensure that we have summary slides that cement our points.
In this type of delivery, it is often the case that the speaker does most of the “heavy lifting.” We do the work to explain, to make connections, to draw parallels, to highlight the likely relevance of the content and ultimately to crystallize the learnings or “takeaways” to be derived from the material.
There are some problems with this common approach, and Carucci’s quote has had me analyzing the issues. When speakers say things like, “What this means for you is” or “The reason this should be important to you is,” we miss the opportunity to engage audiences to develop these insights on their own — which, in the context of adult learning, is what makes learning more meaningful.
How much effort do we tangibly and deliberately put into creating opportunities for our audiences to think? I offer that it’s more the case that we focus on communicating information, but maybe not so much on how to set our audiences up for contemplating and ultimately producing their own conclusions. Carucci’s quote reminded me of the significance of this essential component of presenting. It’s not simply about getting information across — it’s about impacting what learners think, believe or choose to do differently. We can’t do that to them, we have to create the conditions for them to do it for themselves.
Strategies to Spur Thinking:
- Be curious about what your audience is thinking! Ask open-ended questions — and wait for audience members to respond! (What is the impact of this information?)
- Ask the audience to challenge your viewpoint: What have I missed? Where am I off-base in this line of thinking?
- Seek evidence of comprehension: Invite someone to explain/teach-back a portion of your content.
- Ask compare/contrast questions: How does this info compare to…?
- Try impact questions: How might this impact your work if you were to…? What is the impact of this info, if anything?
I am also reminded of a Frederic Bastiat quote that has stuck with me for many years:
“The brain does not accept that which it does not attribute to its own efforts.”
Simply, if I tell you something, it has less potential impact than if you realize it on your own. So, it is necessary for speakers to find ways to create moments for audience members to actually think! The consequence may very well be that they learn something.