What's Easier: Listening to just audio, or audio + visual contact?

Brief Description/Purpose

Research has shown that we are better able to listen and take in information when we use a single sense. In particular it's easier to listen and retain if we have ONLY audio (hearing) compaired to audio + visual contact (site + hearing).

This is an interesting fun exercise to make people more aware of how our listening gets worse the more information from different senses we have to process.


Practice, Group Discussion

Age Appropriate

Teens, Adults

Ideal Group Size

Any size, depending on what alternatives you use.

Time For Exercise

20 minutes


Listening, Multi-tasking, information processing

Detailed Instructions If Needed

There are various ways to do this exercise.

I. Audio only vs Audio + Video

Choose two video clips (from news, speech, etc that are fairly similar, but do NOT have identical content. Best to use the same person for both.

Introduce the exercise simply to the group: 

"I'd like you to listen to and watch the video I'm going to play. After the video, I'm going to ask you some questions about what was communicated" Please do NOT take notes.

Play the video + audio

Ask the following questions:

On a scale of 1-10 how difficult was it to "get" the points the speaker made, with 10 the hardest and one 1 the easiest?

What are the two (or whatever number) of main points the speaker made?

What are the sub-points the speaker made in support of his/her main points?

Get input from individuals in the group to these questions.

Share YOUR pre-made analysis of the segment you chose, and discuss how accurate the participants' interpretations were.

Play ONLY The Audio For the Second Segment 

Repeat the exercise but this time so the video is turned off, again asking the same questions.


Here are some questions to use for the debrief. Note that if you choose the right kinds of segments, the video + audio should be harder to digest, and more errors may be made by participants. That doesn't always happen.

Which was harder to get the information from?

Why do you think one was easier than the other?

Did you use any specfic techniques to listen to these segments? (hint - one might be to NOT look at the video, but just use your ears?

Did you notice that each of you came away with slightly different perceptions of what the speaker (in one or both segments) was saying? About what was important?

2 .Alternative Method

Instead of using video and audio segments, here's a way to do the same thing without the technology.

Choose two stories/article of equal complexity. Read the first one outloud but use a lot of physical acting out, exagerated tones of voice and great deal of drama, movement, gesture.

Ask questions to test what participants heard, as in the first example.

Repeat the exercise with the second article/story, but this time do so seated and without drama. Use a regular tone of voice (not flat tone).

Use the same procedures for discussion and debrief as in the first version.