Understanding The Individuals Of Public Speaking Audience

Listen to this Post. Powered by iSpeech.org

Ask anyone… It just makes sense that each time you prepare to deliver a presentation, you need to pay attention to who will be in your audience. But, how often have you really considered what impact the individual personalities of members or your audience will have on the outcome of your speech?

Psychologists tell us that our individual personalities are revealed in the characteristic patterns of our thinking, feeling and acting; that our personalities shape how we develop, perceive, learn, remember, think and feel. You display your own characteristics (personality) as you deliver your presentations. And, the members of your audience will display their personality (in terms of their individual wants and needs from your speech), though perhaps less notably, while you speak. Identifying and addressing the specific needs of your audience is one of the keys to success as a public speaker.

There have been a number of psychological testing methods developed to assess personality traits; our characteristic patterns of behavior and conscious motives. One popular approach to describing and classifying personalities, frequently used in business and career counseling, was developed by Isabel Briggs-Meyers and her mother Kathleen Briggs. They developed the “Myers-Briggs Type Indicator” which is a 126 question survey designed to identify preferences in management style and decision making. To get an accurate perspective of decision making preferences, in addition to completing your own survey, similar surveys are confidentially submitted by your superiors, peers and subordinates and are analyzed collectively and comparatively. Participants choose between characteristic responses such as: “Do you usually value sentiment more than logic, or do you value logic more than sentiment?” The process then calls for counting your preferences and labeling them as “feeling” or “thinking” types. Feeling types tend to be sensitive to values and are sympathetic, appreciative, and tactful. Thinking types tend to prefer an objective standard of truth and rely on analysis of available information before making a decision. The result of the analysis is to determine your preferences (personality) as primarily tending to be revealed as one of four personality types: Expressive, Driver, Analytical or Amiable.

Another method of factor analysis, developed by Hans Eysenck and Sybil Eysenck involves comparative rating of your preferences of extraversion-introversion and emotional stability-instability. In this method participants are rated (personally and by others) according to where they rank on a horizontal scale between being introverted on the left and extraverted on the right. The participant is then also rated on a vertical scale between unstable at the top and stable at the bottom. The results are shown in a two dimensional chart that provides insights into the participant’s behavioral characteristics: • Introverted/Unstable – moody, reserved, anxious, sober, quiet, pessimistic • Extroverted/Unstable – touchy, restless, aggressive, excitable, changeable, impulsive, active • Introverted/Stable – passive, careful, thoughtful, peaceful, controlled, reliable, calm • Extroverted/Stable – sociable, outgoing, talkative, responsive, easygoing, lively, carefree

In 1986, McCrae & Costa, in American Psychologist, 41, p.1002, offered what they believe tells a more rounded story about someone’s personality. They identified a set of factors called the “Big Five”. Their premise was that by asking five questions about someone you can reveal a lot about that person. These questions focus on emotional stability, extraversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness. The results plot a person’s preferences such as: calm vs. anxious; secure vs. insecure; self-satisfied vs. self pittying; sociable vs. retiring; fun-loving vs. sober; affectionate vs. reserved; imaginative vs. practical; preference for variety vs. for routine; independent vs. conforming; soft-hearted vs. ruthless; trusting vs. suspicious; helpful vs. cooperative; organized vs. disorganized; careful vs. careless; and disciplined vs. impulsive.

All of these assessment techniques and the focus on traits are simply intended to profile a person’s behavior patterns, not to reveal extensive personality dynamics. These techniques can provide quick assessments of a single trait such as (referring back to Myers-Briggs) the tendencies of • “Expressive” to be bold, visionary, confident, energetic, enthusiastic, and just plain fun! Many marketing and sales people exhibit these behaviors. • The analysis, even at a cursory level, shows how “Drivers” tend to be direct, bold, goal oriented, decisive, strong-willed, and confident. • An “Analytical” will display traits of being steady, dependable, high integrity, detail oriented, orderly and potentially a bit of a perfectionist. • And, of course, the “Amiable” will also tend towards being steady, dependable, consistent, empathetic, high integrity, and trusting, Expressive people help gain cooperation – they are the cheerleaders in an organization. Drivers” focus on achieving the bottom line and provide leadership. Analytical people are very effective at resolving ambiguity and conflicts. Amiable people are great at building trust.

As we point out in our public speaking classes, we have found that a person’s dominant personality type (we use the Myers-Briggs categories) usually determines what strengths and weaknesses a speaker has during presentations and which of the four sets of leadership principles we share with them will be most helpful and more natural for that person. When you determine which temperament you feel is your most dominant, and you couple that with an assessment of the probable temperaments of members of your intended audience, you are much better prepared to deliver your speech in a manner that they will find to be relevant and interesting. You will be answering a very important question that every person in your audience is ALWAYS asking themselves: “What’s in this for me and why should I pay attention?”

Some closing thoughts: For a characteristic to be a genuine personality trait it must persist over time and across situations. People don’t always act with predictable consistency. Your average creativity in helping others to think “outside the box”, your usual focus on building trust and rapport, or your typical focus on the “bottom-line”, over many situations is predictable. It’s the same for your audience. At any given moment, the immediate situation (internal and external factors) can be powerful influences of a person’s behavior, especially when the situation makes clear demands. It’s easier to predict what a person driving a car will do at a traffic light based on the color of traffic lights than from knowing their personality. But, individual differences in some traits, e.g., amiable vs. analytical, can usually be fairly quickly perceived. I repeatedly state to my “Fearless Presentations” students that “It is not about me and what I think I need to say; it’s about the members of my audience and what they need to hear!” Al Pillarelli, LLC, is an instructor and personal coach for The Leader’s Institute®, Management and Supervisor Training. His classes focus on overcoming the fear of public speaking, building confident and autonomous leaders, and improving employee morale. He can be reached toll-free at 1-800-872-7830.

One Response to “Understanding The Individuals Of Public Speaking Audience”

  1. Theresa Walsh says:

    Hi Al,
    It’s a great article but makes me think if, in spite of all the research you mentioned, we could predict that impact? Of course, I can see the benefits of doing this straight away, I am just a bit skeptical about it.

Leave a Reply