LearnShareProsper logo Boosting Business_Performance Adele Sommers
by Adele Sommers, Ph.D.
 www.LearnShareProsper.com Adele@LearnShareProsper.com 
In This Issue

April 2022
Volume 18, Issue 4

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Note from the Author

A Few Words to the Wise about Sharing Expertise

Fairy saying to two unicorns: "Let's talk about learning myths!"Have you ever noticed how those of us in the teaching, training, and communication professions love to share all the exciting things we know?

Not only that, we also love to share the exciting things that other people know, such as when we hear something fun and fascinating as part of our professional development.

It’s as natural as breathing to embrace new ideas and want to pass them along to others when we believe the source of those ideas is an expert.

But sometimes experts make mistakes — unintentionally or otherwise — by not fully vetting the sources of their own information. Whenever that happens, they end up spreading myths instead of valid information. To help counteract this tendency, today’s newsletter explains how to recognize a few of the most common learning myths, so that you can avoid recirculating them to others.

I hope you enjoy this month’s features, and please be sure to join the ongoing conversations by leaving your comments on my Facebook page!

Here’s to your business prosperity,

Adele Sommers, Ph.D., business improvement specialist, author, educator, and award-winning instructional designer

P.S. If you missed any previous issue, please visit the newsletter archive!

Special Message

What Does Your Audience Really WANT to Know?

Woman musing

When you’re preparing to give a talk, host a web seminar, or teach a class, how do you find out what your prospective audience really wants to learn? Do you reach out and contact people ahead of time? Do you create an online survey? Or do you just take a wild guess and hope for the best?

Understanding your audience’s top-most burning issues will help you nail the specific topics they’ll want to learn, as well as fine tune the tone and tenor of your talk. This will help your audience get the most out of the expertise you have to share.

What’s a quick and simple way to go about this? You can easily produce a short questionnaire to post online or send out via email. Here are some important tips:

1) Include only a few relevant questions, not a long list. (Your respondents are busy!)

2) Keep it simple, engaging, and non-intimidating. (If it feels like a nosy “test,” people aren’t likely to respond!)

3) Start with “What’s your top-most burning question, challenge, or concern related to this subject?” Then look carefully for any patterns of hot-button issues when you compile your respondents’ answers. These are the topics you’ll want to highlight in your presentation.

If all goes well, the survey will reveal exactly what your audience really wants to know — and just as importantly, expose any topics they’re not very interested in or comfortable with. Armed with that information, you can focus like a laser beam on their top-priority issues — and avoid a situation in which you might wind up boring, annoying, or otherwise turning people off.

Feature Article

Don’t Be Fooled By These Debunked Learning Myths!
by Adele Sommers

Imagine you’re attending an exciting, high-value conference on how to be a more effective communicator and leader. The many distinguished presenters tout impressive careers and credentials. Each acclaimed speaker shares a compelling message illustrated by colorful charts, graphs, and figures.

Presentation being given at a conference Given this impressive backdrop, is there any reason to doubt a word the speakers are saying?

The trouble is, even in these settings, wise and learned people sometimes spread bogus, debunked, or dubious information.

When we hear something that sounds intriguing and plausible from someone we like and respect, we often can’t wait to share it with our circle of influence!

Let’s examine two popular myths so you can recognize them the next time you see them — and then avoid passing them along as gospel.

  • Myth #1: The “7%-38%-55% rule”
  • Myth #2: The “10-20-30-50-70-90% theory

Myth #1: The “7%-38%-55% rule”

This rule claims that as we listen to people speaking, we derive our understanding of what they mean as follows:

  • 7% from their spoken words
  • 38% from their tone of voice, and
  • 55% from their body language

People who can't see, hear, or speakIn other words, the rule says we supposedly gain very little understanding (only about 7%) from the verbal part of a message, which involves the use of words and phrases.

Instead, we purportedly gain most of the meaning (the remaining 93%) from the nonverbal cues given off by the speaker, such as his or her tone of voice and body language.

Why is that a myth?

Although this rule does have some validity, it has been incorrectly interpreted to apply to everything — including factual information. If the rule actually did apply to factual information, we’d have very little reason to listen to someone’s words to understand the meaning behind them, such as during a lecture. To make sense of the lecture — even if it were delivered in a foreign language — we could simply focus on the speaker’s gestures and tone of voice and mostly ignore the words themselves.

So, let’s be clear: The belief that the “7%-38%-55% rule” applies to every type of information is completely false. It’s a gross mischaracterization of the research that Dr. Albert Mehrabian conducted in the 1960s.

Dr. Mehrabian’s research was not about how we communicate ideas in general. As explained here, his findings pertained only to people expressing their feelings and attitudes in an ambiguous way.

Woman wonderingHow so? When people say one thing about their emotions, but convey something very different through their tone of voice and body language, it’s confusing and makes us wonder what’s really true. For example...

Verbal: Richard says, “I feel very relaxed and comfortable with you.”

Nonverbal: Richard sounds anxious, stares downward, and appears tense and withdrawn.

What should we believe in this case? The verbal or the nonverbal aspects of Richard’s message?

If you said the nonverbal aspects, you were right. Whenever people express their emotions ambiguously, Mehrabian found that listeners focus on the nonverbal cues (tone of voice and body language) more than on the spoken words. That’s the correct interpretation of Mehrabian’s rule!

For an excellent illustration of this myth in action, watch this short video: Busting the Mehrabian Myth.

Myth #2: The “10-20-30-50-70-90% theory”

This theory proposes that certain kinds of learning activities are more effective than others in helping us remember something new. For example, the theory suggests that we’ll remember:

  • 10% of what we read
  • 20% of what we see
  • 30% of what we hear
  • 50% of what we see and hear
  • 70% of what we say and write, and
  • 90% of what we say and do

Why is that a myth?

Although the basic idea sounds fairly reasonable, there seems to be no scientific evidence to back it up. It also has some other glaring problems — here are just two of them...

First, the percentage figures are too neat and tidy to be scientific. Valid research studies are unlikely to produce results that are cleanly rounded to the nearest multiple of 10 (such as 20%, 30%, 40%, and so on), as noted by Dr. Will Thalheimer, who has carefully critiqued this myth.

Measuring tape marked with 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60

Second, the model represents a gross generalization about learning. Learning depends on many factors. So, we need to be very cautious about attributing learning to activities that aren’t clearly defined (and these activities aren’t clearly defined). Because the meanings aren’t clear, the related assumptions don’t hold water, either.

Man looking confusedOnce you start asking a few questions like the ones below, the theory starts to fall apart:

1) What’s the difference between “seeing” and “reading”? Why would we remember more from seeing?

2) Do we really learn more from “hearing” something spoken than from “reading” the same material? Doesn’t reading allow us to go back several times to revisit and ponder an idea, often unlike hearing?

3) What exactly does “saying and writing” refer to? Does it mean that we would write out a section of text while speaking it out loud? Wouldn’t that be distracting for some people?

4) When we learn something by “doing,” does that imply that we’re being given timely and meaningful feedback by an instructor or coach that would tell us whether we’re doing it correctly? We just don’t know.

So, how did this theory originate?

Diagram mislabeled as "Dale's Cone of Experience"The model itself has evolved over time, appearing in many different forms since the 1960s or earlier.

Many variations have surfaced as bar charts, circle diagrams, pyramids, and cones — and all contain invented numbers, categories, or both.

One example is the “Cone of Experience,” attributed to Edgar Dale, who wrote about audiovisual media in 1946. A variation of this cone appears at right.

Dale’s “cone,” however, did not include any percentages. So, like many examples attributed to Dale, this one reflects totally made-up information.

In conclusion, it’s tempting to jump on the bandwagon and adopt new ideas from people you respect and admire. But some of what masquerades as wisdom is really misleading — or pure bunk — passed along by respectable people who never fully fact-checked their references. So, don’t be fooled! Keep an eye out for myths like these, and be sure to dig deep into any sources of information that you pass along!

Copyright 2022 Adele Sommers

About the Author

"Straight Talk" Special Report
"Straight Talk" Workbook

Adele Sommers, Ph.D. is the author of “Straight Talk on Boosting Business Performance” — an award-winning Special Report and Workbook program.

If you liked today’s issue, you’ll love this down-to-earth overview of how 12 potent business-boosting strategies can reenergize the morale and productivity of your enterprise, tame unruly projects, and attract loyal, satisfied customers. It’s accompanied by a step-by-step workbook designed to help you easily create your own success action plan. Browse the table of contents and reader reviews on the description page.

Adele also offers no-cost articles and resources to help small businesses and large organizations accelerate productivity and increase profitability. Learn more at LearnShareProsper.com.

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