How Adults Learn: The Three T's

Hello, class! Today, we’re going to learn about The Three T’s and how they can help your presentation’s message reach and stay with your audience.

Public speaking is not so different from teaching. Your audience, much like a high school biology teacher’s, can be made up of reluctant participants: clients and coworkers squirming in their seats, dreaming of lunch. You may catch your learners staring absent-mindedly out of the window or, worse, at their iPhones.

“Why do I need to know this?” Your audience wants to know.

“Why do I need to know this?” Your audience wants to know.

Of course, this is frustrating. You will have a very important lesson to teach them—something they’ll need to recall tomorrow, next week, or a month from now—and they will be unconcerned with retaining it.

To use another metaphor, your audience might feel like they’re prisoners. (Yes, in learning & development, we actually call them “prisoners.”)

However, there’s no need to panic. You can turn the prisoners into engaged listeners.

All you have to do is follow the Three T’s:

  • Tell them what you’re going to tell them

  • Tell it to them

  • Tell them what you’ve told them

At first, this may seem redundant. Who wants to hear the same message three times? Adult learners, however, may actually need to hear the same message seventimes before it sticks. In our media-saturated culture, marketers swear by the Rule of Seven. The Rule of Seven states that a potential buyer needs to hear a message seven times before they take action. Repeating yourself can feel excessive, but, in a world where messages are a constant, repetition is key.

Not only will the Three T’s help your audience remember your message, but it will also immediately engage them. Adult learners in particular need to know the “why” of instruction. If adults immediately know the relevance of your material, they are more willing to engage in what follows.

Adults also need to know what’s expected of them; they have limited time and energy. They are keen on not wasting it. Don’t make your message a difficult. Don’t put too many steps between your audience and what you want to see them accomplish: bookending your presentation with clear asks is always a great idea.

By using the Three T’s, your “class” of adult learners will be poised to get an A. They will know: why they should listen to you, what they should be listening for, and what they should have learned.