I’m going to start this podcast a little differently by giving you a quick heads up: you may be using a very common phrase or instruction in your webinars, presentations, speaking gigs and events, that is actually not an inclusive practice and isn’t supporting different learning styles.
If inclusion is important to you in your business – and especially if you want to ensure you are being friendly and inclusive to neurodivergent people and people with different learning styles – you might want to listen up.
In today’s episode of the podcast, I’m going to share with you how to ensure that you have inclusive learning practices, while also learning more about yourself.
I will explain all of this in this episode of the podcast.
Here for the links referenced in the show notes?
Heart-Centred Virtual Business Conference (use coupon code POD50 to get AUD $50 off your ticket!): heartcentredbusinessconference.com/virtual
How to ADHD (Youtube channel): https://www.youtube.com/c/howtoadhd
Louise O’Reilly: https://www.facebook.com/LouiseOReilly.TheShieldAndTheConch
Why ADHD is late and underdiagnosed in women: ADHD News Article
Let’s dive in!
This has actually come out of the Heart-Centred Virtual Business Conference that I hosted at the start of November 2023.
At the Virtual Business Conference, something that I did at the start of every single day was I told everyone in a very sing-songy way that they can learn their own way (I may or may not have sung it even more proudly as the days went on).
This was really fascinating to me because the chatbox lit up with people being so relieved that they were allowed to learn their own way.
I also had several people include this in their feedback for conference, send me specific emails after the first day, and even send me emails 15 minutes after the opening session where I had said that.
It was really fascinating to me that this is still not the norm.
One of the things that I must say is that I do live in a bit of a neurodivergent bubble. Unless I’m out specifically engaging in learning from strangers of my own accord, I mostly am attracted to learning from neurodivergent people or neurodivergent-friendly businesses.
Because of that, I think I am less likely to see what the neurotypical focused non-inclusive businesses tend to be saying.
I also must say that I have heard this phrase and these non-inclusive things being said by people who identify as neurodivergent as a reason for why they say it.
As far as I can tell, this is just something that gets handed down from generation of entrepreneur to generation of entrepreneur.
It’s time for us to draw a line in the sand.
What I’m referring to is when you go to a webinar or online conference, and the speaker says that they want your full attention so you need to close all your tabs and mono-focus to ensure you absorb all of the information.
Even neurodivergent people share this through the lens that because of their neurodivergence, they know they’re far more likely to take information in if they close down all of their tabs and stay really focused on the presentation.
But something that I understand as a neurodivergent person is that there are different types of neurodivergence. Neurodivergent people don’t necessarily learn the same way as neurotypical people. The whole “close all your tabs down and give me your mono-focus” is actually not necessarily the right learning environment for everyone.
In essence, it becomes non-inclusive.
Speaking for myself, I have been on my fair share of webinars and presentations lately. I am in a space where I’m learning from a range of different diverse voices at the moment, and I’m going a little further outside my normal learning bubble.
Over and over again I have been told to close everything down and give the person my full attention.
It makes me feel less than. It makes me feel like there’s something wrong with me because I do close all the things down. I’m a very diligent student, I pay attention and I do what I’m told, so I shut everything down and I sit there and I try and pay attention.
Whilst it might look like I’m paying attention… I’m not. I’m not taking anything in.
A lot of people don’t recognise that that’s what they’re doing to learners like me when they say that. They think that they’re saying something that’s helpful. They think that they’re saying something that is going to get undivided attention. But my best learning environment is to have visual movement around me as I take in information in an auditory way.
Interestingly, that does not mean lots and lots of animations on slides. I do not like being spoon-fed one sentence at a time on a slide. If I ever attend a presentation or a webinar where I can see there’s a lot of animation going on on the screen, I turn the screen off. I listen to audio-only and I go for a walk.
In neurodivergent and neurotypical learning styles, people usually fall into one or another camp. Either they like being spoon-fed one sentence at a time, or they absolutely detest being spoon-fed one sentence at a time.
Either they like seeing animated pieces of content come up, or they just want the information.
I am on the just-give-me-the-information side.
All of this is to say that you’re never going to be able to create something that works for every single learning style because there are so many different learning styles and different things that work for different people.
But the one gift that you can give every single person who attends your webinar or watches you speak on stage, is to let them learn their own way.
Every day at the Heart-Centred Virtual Business Conference, I started the day by telling people that they can learn their own way. I wasn’t just giving people permission to listen as they walk, do their laundry, tend to their children or scroll Instagram… I was actually encouraging people to experiment and play with what learning environment works best for them.
This is because it’s not modelled enough. We don’t give people enough freedom to experiment. That means that we then make one way the right way, and everything else wrong.
The more that we learn about different brains and different learning styles, the less that that is actually true.
I’ve got some juicy things to cover in this episode… so let’s dive in!
1. What you do moving forward is more important than what you’ve done
If you are reading this and you feel really uncomfortable right now because you have used those statements and that’s just a normal part of your webinar because you copied your webinar structure from a certain person on the internet, just know it’s fine.
It’s the same when people discover that a structure to the sales process that they’re using is not consent-based. Some people’s first reaction is defensiveness and they will defend it like wildfire because they don’t want to acknowledge or bend to the belief that they’re doing something wrong. That’s often the first response which is fine. People need to have their first response.
But in most cases, the big response is guilt. People are so shocked and appalled at what they’ve been doing.
The number one thing that I say to anyone who’s experiencing that feeling is of course you were doing it. It’s because that’s what you were taught. There’s no problem with that whatsoever.
What is important is not what you’ve done until now. What is important is the decision that you make moving forward.
That is the most important thing from here.
One of my fabulous inclusion mentors, Louise O’Reilly, talks about this in relation to inclusion from a diversity perspective.
One of the biggest challenges that inclusion mentors such as Louise have, is that the very people who would make the best allies and have the most impact if they embraced and learned about inclusive practices are the ones who are so scared to set a foot wrong that they do nothing.
That’s a really painful dichotomy.
They want to make sure they have more diversity and inclusivity in their programs, but they’re waiting until they have everything absolutely perfect and are 100% sure they aren’t making any mistakes publicly.
Something that I learned from Louise that I repeat over and over again is that it is better to be an imperfect ally taking action today than to wait and try to be a perfect ally taking action six months or six years from now.
It’s exactly the same when it comes to learning inclusion.
Let’s model an inclusive way of creating learning opportunities for people.
That’s number one. You may not realise that you’ve been doing it, and you may not realise that that’s your unconscious bias towards neurotypical language and behaviour. That’s fine.
You may not have realised, but now that you see it and understand, the decision that you make from here is more important.
If you are someone who wants to create inclusion and ensure that you are giving people the opportunity to learn in a way that works really well for them, then let’s stop telling people to close down their tabs.
The very people that you’re trying to get to close down their tabs will never close their tabs anyway. They’ll just secretly leave them open, or they’ll turn off their video so you can’t see that they’re doing something else. Or they will look like they’re paying attention, but they’ll be scrolling their phone down in their lap.
Interestingly (this is just a little fun fact about Tash), when it comes to taking in information from an auditory perspective, my eyes need to be busy.
Whole-body movement is best for me.
I listen to most webinars and podcasts while I’m walking, riding my bike or driving. Having movement and visual stuff going on is very good.
But there are times (for example when I’m hosting a conference so I need to sit at my desk) where scrolling Instagram (something that’s a very visual platform) is actually me naturally aiming to create my best learning environment, either consciously or unconsciously.
I only really uncovered this whole visual thing about myself two years ago, because I couldn’t understand why I didn’t enjoy animations on slides when I did identify as neurodivergent.
A lot of neurodivergent people actually prefer to be spoon-fed a little bit at a time and have it as animated with as much movement as possible.
I knew that movement whilst taking in auditory information was important to me, but animations on slides was not it.
Even before I realised what my best learning environment was, I was always someone who didn’t need to be looking at the screen when watching a movie. I could happily just listen to it and scroll on my phone.
I often don’t like looking at the visuals of the types of movies that David loves (#ActionFilms #ALittleBitTooGoryForMe). I’m happy to sit and listen to the dialogue and just hear the guns going off. I don’t need to look at the screen to know that machine guns are going off.
I’m quite happy scrolling through my phone while watching a movie.
But then even at conferences I attended, I would be drawing oracle cards, colouring things in or drawing pretty patterns while I was listening. What I was creating was a visual difference for myself.
Sometimes you might be unconsciously creating the right learning environment for yourself but not realise it. And that brings me to number two…
2. Learn your learning style
Learn what makes the right learning environment for you. There’s a lot of evidence now (I’ve been doing a lot of deep dives into learning styles, can you tell?) that the whole visual/auditory/kinesthetic/tactile learning thing is not actually true.
We don’t actually have one way of learning. But in fact, every single one of those ways of taking in information requires a different environment for us.
That’s really powerful for me because I always identified as a kinesthetic learner.
But the reason was because when it came to learning how to do something, I’d be better off doing it to learn how to do it, than reading the instructions. But actually, most people take in how to do something physical through that kinesthetic learning style.
However, for people who are visual processors, seeing it first before having a go and doing it kinesthetically will often create better results.
Anyway, I won’t just spew out my very haphazard understanding of these different studies. But it was really powerful for me because I think something that’s been a disservice to us is this thing of boxing yourself into one learning style.
That whole box-yourself-into-one-learning-style thing then means that you only create that learning experience for yourself, therefore you never actually understand what you need in order to learn in another way.
If you box yourself into the visual learning style, then when podcasts are really prevalent, you would just keep telling yourself podcasts don’t work for you because you take things in better visually, when in actual fact, if you needed to learn something in an auditory way, you could do that if you created the right environment for that auditory learning.
Isn’t it amazing?! Oh, my gosh, it’s so good.
All of this to say, take some time to experiment and learn what your learning style is.
That will take practice.
When I was going to a couple of events pre-COVID and I was learning more and more about my neurodivergence, it was suggested to me to take a fidget spinner to an event. I could fidget with it under the table and that movement could actually be really helpful to help me to take in the information.
Within three minutes, I was ready to throw that thing out the window.
It annoyed me. I don’t need to move my fingers. That’s not what I’m looking for when I’m trying to take in information.
What I need is visual movement.
When I’m at events, I will often look at the crowd instead of the speaker on stage.
I love a walking and moving speaker, they definitely capture my attention far more effectively, but I also am quite happy to look around the room. It might look like I’m not paying attention, but actually, I’m giving myself what I need to take the information in.
Again, I’m also happy to scroll Instagram while I’m sitting at a conference.
I was at a conference in early 2019 and that’s where I really created that connection for myself in relation to visual stimulation while I’m trying to take something in auditorily.
During the lockdown days is when I really went deep into this understanding because I had to be listening via a screen, so therefore, I had to find what was going to create the right learning environment for me in that instance.
I really do encourage you to experiment with different ways of learning and different environments for learning.
You never know… you might actually say to yourself that you’re just really bad with technology and can’t take in any technology-based information. But maybe the best way for you to learn technology-based information is simply by engaging in the process and doing it as you hear it step-by-step, or by listening to the instructions over and over again, or by reading it with all the visuals.
There are so many different ways that you could learn the exact same thing.
So often, the way to learn a certain thing is presented in one way and so we decide we’re just not good at that thing. When that’s not the case! It’s just that the default way of teaching that thing doesn’t suit your learning preferences and the right learning environment for you.
Take some time to learn your style and experiment.
You might go for a walk.
For me personally, I can’t do a treadmill desk. Can’t do it. And yet going out for a walk and listening is fine.
But the thing is, it’s not just about the movement for me. It’s the visual stimulation. It’s the change in visual stimulus. That’s what’s important to my brain if I’m listening to something
Sometimes you need to waste $1,000 on a treadmill for under your desk to realise that treadmill desks don’t work for you.
When I was trying to do treadmill desk stuff, my brain was SO fixated on when I could stop that I couldn’t actually focus on anything.
I felt like I just needed to sit down so I could think for a second.
It was so fascinating to me because when I would go out and listen to podcasts or webinars walking, I thought it was the walking that was helping. But it was actually the bodily movement with the visual dynamic.
My visuals are nice and occupied and I’m taking all of that in (not through written words) so I’m much more present to the words. It’s fascinating.
Anyway, I won’t just keep talking about what my learning style is, because everyone is different.
But just experiment!
I also highly recommend you check out the YouTube channel How to ADHD.
She is such an amazing content creator. She has been so helpful to me in setting up my environment for success. But also very quick to acknowledge that different things work for different people.
Everything is couched as an experiment. “Try this, play with this, give this a go. This might work for you, this might not work for you. This works for me, this doesn’t work for me.“
Even if you’re neurodivergent, there’s not one type of neurodiverse learning style. Everyone needs something different.
I’ve just heard that so many times that it makes sense to me that in order to be inclusive, we need to let people learn their own way.
This is where we turn this into a selling point for your business…
3. Make it a differentiator
So many people said to me over and over again that they were going to come back to Virtual Conference every time because they previously believed they would never be able to learn from a virtual event, but actually, once they were encouraged to create the right learning environment for themself, they were finally able to take information in.
It is a differentiator for the Heart-Centred Virtual Business Conference now.
It’s a differentiator and it’s something that I will be showcasing. This podcast is a way of showcasing that and showing that I create inclusive learning experiences for people.
Have a think about that.
It can even be in relation to people who learn better with others or on their own.
For example, something else that we do at conference is spotlighting everyone, and people could spotlight themselves in the group and we had lists where people could take turns at spotlighting in the call.
There are just so many amazing things that we do to learn about each other.
Something that I was doing in one of our cross-promotion challenges was I was checking out some sales pages of other people who were at conference.
What I saw over and over again was that the group opportunity to learn was cheaper than the VIP one-to-one opportunity to learn. And it was so often written like an apology… “In order to make this affordable, it needs to be a group learning experience. But it’ll be capped at 20 people. I promise!”
As someone who is extroverted and energised by being in the presence of other people, I actually learn better in a group where I can body-double. You apologising for the group learning environment almost sells me out of it.
Alternatively, you could actually shine a light on how powerful it is for people who do well in group learning environments… “If you’re neurodivergent and love body-doubling, then you’re going to find the group calls really powerful because we’re all going to be there together.”
There are all these amazing things that are beneficial to your group program, and here you are apologising for the fact that we have to do it with other people.
That was one little example of supporting learning.
But I think that you can actually make this very forward in your business as you get better at it.
Something that I’m getting better at doing and making more forward in my business is, even in my one-to-one packages, having people who do their sessions while walking.
We’re both walking while we’re on our call doing their session.
We record it so they don’t have to take notes, and we know that everything that we’re discussing is going to be covered. For them, they feel like they are more able to express themselves fully.
They are in a more creative space, and I actually do very well walking and thinking at the same time and talking things out.
I have two VIP clients in particular who do a walkie-talkie session every other time.
That is something that will be far more forward in my business as a unique selling point.
It’s not only being inclusive and being okay with people learning their own way, it’s actually making it forward in the message because it’s a differentiator.
I want you to think about all the different ways that people can work with you.
Instead of seeing your group program as less than, highlight it and note down the benefits of that. Because in a lot of cases, you’re underselling the very option that would be the best for a lot of people.
Rather than apologising for it, make it a hero part of your messaging. Make it a stronger part of your messaging.
They are the three things you can do to ensure you’re supporting learning:
1. Let’s model inclusion! It’s okay if you’ve been telling people to shut all the tabs, pay attention and sit up straight. But let’s maybe not do that from here.
2. Learn what your best learning environment is for different types of information that you need to take in, and for different ways that you want to learn things.
3. Make this a hero message in your business.
Let’s embrace it so much that it becomes a differentiation point.
Not only are we creating far more inclusive learning opportunities for our clients and for our audience, but also, if I had to choose between someone who spotlighted the way that they create unique learning environments and are flexible in how people take in information, versus someone who doesn’t speak about that at all, I would go with the person who speaks about it. This is because I know what a difference it makes for me in terms of the results that I get from what I’m investing in.
Let’s model inclusion.
You may have found this a little challenging to take in. As I said, draw a line in the sand. You get to choose what you do from here.
But also, one of the big things that came out of conference was the more I talked about the learning environment I needed from a neurodivergent ADHD perspective, the more people realised that maybe they were ADHD.
Get to know yourself.
I’m going to take a little sidestep at the end and share a little rant for anyone who is starting to think that maybe you’re neurodivergent, particularly if you were assigned female at birth/raised a female.
But before I go into that, I just want to quickly plug the Heart-Centred Virtual Business Conference because the next one is in March 2024.
If you buy your tickets earlier, you will be more likely to be selected as a speaker because I am actually going to be selecting a lot of the speakers for Virtual Conference next year from the ticket holders.
It’s a way that I reward people who buy tickets.
I support those who support the event because the event is a community-based event. If you support the event, you’re supporting the community… and I support the community supporting event. It’s like this whole spiral thing.
Make sure that you go and check out the Heart-Centred Virtual Business Conference.
If you use the coupon code POD50 at checkout, you’ll get AUD $50 off your ticket: heartcentredbusinessconference.com/virtual
Get your tickets sooner rather than later!
If all of what I’ve been talking about in terms of learning styles has really opened your eyes, you wait until you experience conference!
Honestly, it is so beautiful, so inclusive, so loving, so flexible, and so valuable.
There’s so much connection, networking, spaciousness for people who need to introvert, and opportunity for you to create the conference experience that works exactly and specifically for you, and yet creates so much transformation for everyone involved.
I cannot even!!!! Honestly, it has been spectacular.
I’ll most likely be running Virtual Conference every year in March from here.
The more that you attend these conferences, the more people you’ll get to meet, and the more you’ll expand your network.
Remember: your network helps to maximise your net worth.
Please do come and check it out. That was a terrible sales pitch for Virtual Conference, but I did want to mention it before I dove into my final thought.
I wasn’t planning on saying this, but I was listening to a podcast a few months ago and they had a guest expert on who was talking about the underdiagnosis of ADHD and neurodivergence in girls. In particular, young girls in the classroom.
Of course, this is going to sound very uninclusive in terms of gender identity. But if you were assigned female at birth, and especially if your early introduction into the classroom was as a girl or being identified as a girl, this will be particularly important.
What this psychiatrist was saying was that the societal norms of how girls and boys are raised in the home are so different (often unconsciously) that it is one of the main contributors as to why autism and ADHD are underdiagnosed in girls.
That is because for girls, especially in the formative years, it is thrust upon them that societally it is important that they are seen as polite.
The standard of politeness we expect of girls is not the same as the standard of politeness we expect of boys.
I hope and pray that every person reading this who is a parent is rejecting these gender norms and binaries. It’s probably not something you’re doing to your children, but rather the way you were raised (I’m not a parent, I’m not a parenting expert, I do not profess to be a parenting expert, nor would I ever want to give any kind of parenting advice to anyone).
If you are someone who is over the age of 20-25, it is likely that you experienced the programming that it is very important to be polite.
Girls are raised with far more fear of authority than boys, because boys tended to get away with more.
“Boys are naturally boisterous, so they are allowed to [blah, blah, blah].” Vs. “Girls are naturally carers and nurturers, so let’s give them all pretend babies.”
It’s nature versus nurture. I totally understand all of that, I’m not going to go into that debate…
What this psychiatrist said though, was that when girls and boys enter the classroom for the first time, girls already have so much programming around politeness, paying attention, being quiet and listening, that their ADHD or learning challenges go undiagnosed far longer because girls know how to mask far more effectively.
Our loudness and boisterousness was not tolerated, and I can recognise this for myself. It really landed for me that I did very well in the classroom environment because I knew how to play the game.
I was very good at taking information in very quickly.
I was not good at sitting and paying attention in the classroom learning environment, but I was good at faking it.
I’d absorb things super quickly out of books and textbooks, and then sit and stare at the teacher as though I was paying attention and being a very good student.
It was just fascinating to me how this was presented, and how much this would contribute to the underdiagnosis of ADHD in girls because it presents in a very different way.
Part of the reason why it presents in a different way for girls is the different developmental phases for different ages for different sexes. But a big contributor is also cultural or societal norms about gender roles and gender expectations.
Loud boys are leaders, and loud girls are bossy. Loud boys are just boisterous and energetic, and loud girls are disruptive. Boys who fidget and move around a lot just have a lot of energy to burn, girls who fidget and wriggle around a lot are being naughty.
There were just so many examples that this person gave, so I think that this is an important little seed to plant.
I want to say this through the lens of:
1. I’m not an expert.
2. If this is really resonating for you, just go and watch a few videos from How to ADHD.
3. Psychologists and psychiatrists have far more research and far more insights as to how and why these things express, and how to really differentiate.
4. Just because you were really good in school, doesn’t mean that it’s the right learning environment for you.
This is a big one for me…
In the early days when I started thinking that maybe I was neurodivergent and had ADHD, whenever I expressed my belief to someone who knew me as a student, the first thing they would say is “But you were really good at school”.
Just because you’re really good at school (we are also overachievers here in this little community, aren’t we?) doesn’t necessarily mean that that school environment was built for your learning styles. It often means that you were just better at adapting yourself to that environment because that’s what was expected of you because you were assigned female at birth.
I wanted to have that conversation because I think for a lot of people, there is a reluctance to even go there. There is a reluctance to even accept it, explore it or allow ourselves to dive into that exploration, have a conversation with a psychologist, or go and have some testing done, because it’s seen as either being less than, or it’s an easy out, or we’re just looking for an excuse.
I went through all of that.
I went through all of that because it was thrust upon me by the people who love me the most and who knew me the best because of their experience of what I was like as a student in the classroom.
For me, it was just so validating to hear that psychiatrist say that for a lot of people who were assigned female at birth, their experience in the classroom was that of masking.
Because we were so good at masking, now as adults we are so hesitant and reluctant to tell those who knew us in that environment about our beliefs about this neurodivergent thing because whenever we do express that, the first response is “You were so good at school, you were so well behaved at school, you were such a well-behaved child, you were a straight-A student”.
I was a straight-A student, so there was no need to go and see if I was ADHD.
There was no exploring my neurodivergence.
My brother was wildly ADHD and it expressed very differently to my learning difficulties. His learning difficulties and my learning difficulties were like chalk and cheese. Because my grades were so extraordinary, the challenges that I had, the frustrations that I had, and the issues that I had were often couched as laziness and leaving things to the last minute, instead of being explored and understood.
For every person that I say that to, I see this sense of something cross their face. It’s important to me to share this information with you, whether it resonates with you as a neurodivergent person, or whether you’re neurotypical and all of that just sounds like a load of weird stuff that helps you understand others.
I just want us to have the opportunity to have that conversation.
I know that I’ve butchered it – I definitely didn’t present it in a very well-articulated or thought-out way, I just decided to add this at the last minute.
But for me, I believe I would have had a far more effective start as an entrepreneur and a far better experience of the workplace and schooling if not for gender bias and roles.
I also feel that I would have gotten the help that I needed with my neurodivergence far quicker if not for this belief that my ability to mask actually meant that I didn’t have learning challenges or neurodiversity.
I just had to express that.
I’ll likely do this as a Facebook Live over and over again because I think that the more voices we hear sharing those experiences and all of those different reasons, the more of us who will then be open to creating a much more effective environment for ourselves to succeed.
That’s what I want.
This psychiatrist also shared some statistics about the number of people who are neurodivergent versus the number of people who are diagnosed neurodivergent.
The difference is far greater for women than it is for men. They also link this back to a lot of the gender norms, stereotypes and societal expectations of people assigned female at birth, compared to people assigned male at birth.
It was a really big difference. The ballpark was about 7% of people are neurodivergent, but 1% of women are diagnosed and 6% of men are diagnosed.
It was huge.
If any of this resonates for you, please do spend some time allowing yourself to explore it – without judging yourself as being less than or without making it mean that you must be lazy because you’re looking for an excuse as to why you leave things to the last minute or why you can’t get anything done.
Let’s throw all of that stuff out, and just give yourself that gift.
Thank you so much for reading this rant.
I hope that it’s been helpful for you, or at least it’s opened your eyes to supporting other learning styles.
I also highly recommend you check out these resources:
- How to ADHD (Youtube channel): https://www.youtube.com/c/howtoadhd
- Louise O’Reilly: https://www.facebook.com/LouiseOReilly.TheShieldAndTheConch
- Why ADHD is late and underdiagnosed in women: ADHD News Article
I hope to see you at the Heart-Centred Virtual Business Conference! Make sure to use coupon code POD50 to get AUD $50 off your ticket: heartcentredbusinessconference.com/virtual
I look forward to seeing you give yourself a great learning environment and role modelling and supporting inclusive learning strategies for your audience.
Until next time, I cannot WAIT to see you SHINE.