Successfully Working with Personalities in Your Audience

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Successfully Working with Personalities in Your Audience

In this article, Tina Mertel, Founder of Meaningful Coaching, explores some tips to work successfully with different personalities in your audience.

When giving a presentation or facilitating a class, you are stepping into the unknown. You may have prepared your content, checked out the classroom ahead of time, and are managing your adrenaline as you walk to the front of the room. But there is an ingredient you can’t control………the personalities in the audience.

Personality theories abound, and one thing is common between them – when you experience a personality that is unlike your own, it’s likely to cause you some conflict.

Take for example the personality types out of the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI®).

Participants whose MBTI preferences are different from those of a presenter may find it difficult to adjust to the training atmosphere and the presenter’s methods of communicating. Presenters who vary their styles after learning about personality type often find they can motivate and teach a wider range of participants because they are developing diverse approaches that better meet the needs of all participants.

Let’s say you are INFP: Introvert, Intuitive, Feeling, and Perceiving. Any audience member with just one difference than you in these letters – ESTJ: Extrovert, Sensing, Thinking, and Judging can threaten your best laid out plans for a great hack-a-thon.

An introverted facilitator gathers their energy in order to connect with others, and needs time to process and regain their energy after the hack-a-thon. Participants who are extroverted welcome connecting with others, and gather energy from others. A class of extroverts can tax an introverted facilitator. It’s key for this facilitator to find moments on breaks to regenerate and gather energy to be with people and support their learning. Taking a walk outside, visiting an empty office or training room, or calling a close friend for a brief check-in can be regenerating.

If it were the reverse, an extroverted facilitator with an introverted audience, the quiet atmosphere in the room can be distressing, and doubt can set in if you are wanting to connect to the audience. So that you know you are having an affect, writing exercises and dyad work will assist you in gauging their engagement. Also having more one-on-one interaction allows for your extroversion while maintaining the introvert’s need to be discrete.

The difference between N and S is how one likes to process information (which is a core element of receiving a presentation), answering the question, “what do I do with this?”. Do you prefer to focus on the basic information you take in (S) or do you prefer to interpret and add meaning (N)?

If you are an Intuition type on the MBTI, then you like to present with a sense of how things are connected and the possibility of ideas. The participant who comes from S (sensing) will challenge the N by asking things like “what do you actually do with this?” or “show me in practical terms what that means?” This may come across as condescending to your N ideas, but know that it is their personality dictating the questions.

In reverse if you are a S type, then you show participants what to do with your information more than discuss what’s possible. Participants with N will question the long-term results or vision, and may think it beneath them to follow detailed instructions as it limits the possibility they see. Give breadth to these participants, you may need patience to let themselves think and extrapolate out loud.

How people make decisions comes out of the preference for Thinking (using logic) or Feeling (having a concern for others and values). If you have T preferences and your audience poses a question you often go to the logic of the question posed, this may be unsatisfying to the participant with an F preference. So having both a T answer and an F answer can assist you in meeting their need. For example, a participant asks “How do I decide when it’s the appropriate time to use this skill?” You may reflect back, “It’s what’s important to you. Some may create a logical path of x + y equals using this skill, but others may look at the effect on others and the value it brings to using this skill. My way of making decisions is logical, so I would do x + y.”

If you have F as your preference, your decisions in class would reflect a concern for others, and there may be times when a logical approach would be more beneficial. Such as how you manage your agenda, after all, time is constant and only having 15 minutes left to explain a concept calls for a logical decision unless you want to risk going over time. Another area that may arise is how you give feedback to your participant. Be aware in how they ask you, is it directly such as “what are the 1 or 2 items I should watch?” or veiled such as “if you were me, what would you work on?”. The first being more about facts (T), the second having a more personal context (F).

The final area of MBTI is linked to structure in dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to have plans and predictability (Judging – J), or do you prefer to stay open to options and appreciate spontaneity (Perceiving – P)? If you prefer P then it’s likely you create your presentation up to the last minute, whereas if you had J, you start early and plan so that the environment is predictable. During your presentation you may find yourself on tangents, which for you are related to the topic, but for the J participant they may find the tangents annoying and unrelated. It’s best you mention you know you are on a tangent and you will get back to the agenda after describing the related tangent. This way you keep the interest of those who want to follow the agenda.

If you prefer J and your audience is P, they may see you as too strict and unbending. If unpredictability arises in your session, such as participants wanting to discuss an item not on your agenda, or a need to tell their story then exhibiting patience and curiosity will build the rapport to the audience. You may want to add time into your agenda beforehand just for occurences such as these. For example for a full day’s session I will add 20-30 min for unpredictable experiences.

In summary, if you expect to be triggered in your training environment you will have much more skill in handling the unknown. Listen for the opposing personality in your next session, practice your skills in handling various needs, add patience and you will find yourself at a new level of mastery.