The Tactile Kinesthetic Listener

More than ears

Only 10-25% of listeners are primarily auditory. So why are most communicators simply talking heads? Laziness. Communicating with only words is not the most effective communication, mind you, but it’s the easiest way to communicate. And, it is speaker centered communication. The speaker knows what they want to talk about and has some measure of expertise in the subject and consequently prepares a talk that gives their expertise. The speaker takes into consideration the amount of time they have and the amount of information they have. Then the speaker plans the talk using the information they are most interested in or know the most about and trys to make it fit the amount of time they are given to speak. They may or may not try to find an interesting related story or an image for a screen, if they have one. But, all this is speaker centered communication. It is not very effective for two reasons. One, the audience is viewed mainly as a repository for the speakers information. And, two, it ignores the research related to how people pay attention and learn.

A very valuable currency

Syms Wyeth of Syms Wyeth & Company says that, “in our language of English, attention is paid because attention is a valuable currency. When listeners pay attention, they are rewarding you with arguably the most valuable currency in the world.”

If this is true, and our audiences are paying us, then our communication ought to be audience centered. Our communication ought to take into consideration the best way for the audience to receive, not just hear, what we are communicating. This requires using more than words. The research is long standing and clear. Only 10-25% of the average audience is auditory. The next few blogs here will unpack the various learning/listening styles and explore how they can be used in any venue to maximize audience reception of your message and take you from ordinary to extraordinary as a communicator.

Don’t miss half your audience

Almost half of any given audience, 40-50%, are tactile kinesthetic learners. This means that they need to manipulate something or move in some way to fully process what you are saying.  They need to move in some way to maintain attention. As communicators seeking excellence, not just in our delivery but in the reception of what we deliver, we need to spend time creatively planning ways to engage our audience. Some audience venues are more conducive to this style of learning than others. But, like my father always said, where there is a will there is a way! And when the will of the communicator is centered on his or her audience and maximizing their reception of the message, the speaker will find a way!

Messages that become memories

I remember being in a large auditorium in Minneapolis, where the speaker was addressing high school students gathered from all over the  state of Minnesota for a Lutheran Youth Encounter convention. The speaker was talking about the signs of the Spirit of God in a young person’s life. Pretty heady and abstract subject matter. Though it was more than fifty years ago, I remember to this day how the speaker began. He began by acknowledging that we came from hundreds of different high schools. He further acknowledged that each high school had its own mascot and uniquely expressed school spirit. He instructed the audience to stand up and on the count of three yell out their mascots name. At the count of three the auditorium erupted into mascot chaos. He went a step further. The speaker identified that each school had a favorite cheer that included some demonstrative gesture that was used to communicate their school spirit. For the Indians, it was a mohawk chop. For the Gators it was a fully extended double arm chop. For the Cowboys it was a whoop and a arm twirling a lasso. The speaker instructed the students on the count of three to demonstrate their school spirit using their own unique gesture. The whole place was moving and almost everyone was fully engaged in demonstrating their school spirit. This speaker employed the tactile kinesthetic method to get the audience’s attention and reward them for the valuable currency they were paying him—their attention. He used this currency to transition to describing what the Bible described as signs of the Spirit of God and the exciting ways  he had observed these signs in young people just like us. The speaker got us moving but in a direction that pointed right to the subject matter he wanted to engage us in. This took time, and thoughtful planning.

Reinforcing  the message

The tactile kinesthetic listener can also be engaged by filling in blanks. A handout with major points of the talk or presentation including missing words that can be filled in can provide limited movement to  keep the listener engaged as well as create a way for the audience to remember the message. Speakers can get their audiences moving by interacting with one another. A speaker can instruct their audience to turn to someone sitting next to them and say something like, “Turn to someone sitting near you and tell them you are glad they are here.” Or, a speaker can instruct the audience to perform some friendly gesture like, “Turn toward the person sitting next to you or behind or in front of you and give them a high five.”  Simple audience involvement allows limited but important opportunity to do something more than just listen. If a speaker does not provide creative and thoughtful ways for the audience to manipulate objects or move—ways that direct the audience toward your message—they will find ways to manipulate objects and move that are less likely to help them listen.

It takes thoughtful creative planning

Of course, this kind of communication risks alienating some members of the audience who do not like this kind of engagement. However, the wise communicator does not do this for extended periods of time or frequently, just once or twice in a thirty-minute presentation or talk is adequate to engage tactile kinesthetic listeners without totally alienating others. For some audiences objects can be given to them as they enter the room that give them something to hold in their hands and manipulate while they listen. It is most helpful when the object somehow leads them to thinking about the subject matter of your presentation. A talk or presentation on the power of cooperation and the strength of working teams can be demonstrated by giving people a piece of multi-stranded string as they enter the auditorium.  They might begin with a five-strand string and at each point of your talk you have them unwind and remove one strand. By the end of the talk they can clearly see (and feel) the single remaining strand is not as strong as the five strands together that they began with. This kind of audience centered communication takes creative thinking, time, and planning in order to execute well.

Ask for help

The goal is not to cater to only one segment of your audience, but to creatively plan to engage as many of the learning styles as you can in the time frame that you have. In the next few blogs we will explore the other learning styles and multiple ways of employing them in your communication. If you are a person for whom this kind of creative thinking does not come naturally, you can find someone to help you. Find a friend or colleague who is creative and ask them to help you brainstorm ways to engage tactile kinesthetic listeners in a way that will help them pay attention to your subject matter. Remember, their attention is a valuable currency and they are rewarding you by giving you attention. Its worth the extra effort of careful  and creative thinking and planning to reward them with dynamic and multi-sensory communication in return.

From ordinary to  extraordinary

The hard work of engaging different learning styles in your speaking and communicating is what makes the difference between an ordinary speaker and an extraordinary communicator. It can also make the difference between a message quickly forgotten and one that is remembered for a long time.

Can you remember a time when a speaker engaged an audience effectively with some kind of movement or object? Tell us about that experience in the comments below.


Written by Candie

Leave a Comment