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Know Your Audience: Tips for Public Speaking

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Does your personality style impact how well your presentation is received?

"One third of you will think I rock." predicted motivational speaker Steffany Hanlen "Another third will think I am OK, but the last third will question why they came."

When I heard her say this at a presentation she did for me at Sheridan College, a light bulb went on in my head. Her comments explain the varied evaluations I receive after we've put on an event -- which can range from "the speaker was excellent" to "she shouldn't give up her day job." I've often wondered if the people were even at the same event.

Certainly at the conference we try to break up how the participants are learning and receiving information, so we will switch from keynote speaker and panel discussion to an interactive small group format and then try to end on fun note.

But as I looked through the evaluations from our recent conference, which were extremely positive, I started to see a pattern in terms of how people rated certain speakers, and it reminds me of my classes in personality temperament theory.

While I may brief the speakers on the audience, their backgrounds and occupations, I can't predict the personality style of all those involved, which in turn impacts how they learn best and that's why some people will love a presentation, and others hate it.

If you are talking to a group of people who work in the financial industry, for example, they are very organized, detail-oriented and everything is black or white. There are few greys and they want the facts and straightforward, practical tips for moving forward. Their time is precious to them, so don't waste it. They need the presentation to start and end on time, and forget any fancy games.

Likewise, there are the intellectual types who don't want to look foolish, so having to stand up and "high-five" a complete stranger or repeat a speaker, is not for them. What they enjoy is a logical presentation with the theory to back up what you are saying. They always have questions and can sit in the audience with rather an aloof look so you don't think you are reaching them at all.

And then there are those that are all emotion. If your story strikes a chord with them, then the Kleenex is out. They are all about relationships so you need to build an instant rapport with them. Telling stories, making them laugh and delivering a strong personal message will win them over.

Last but not least, are the party animals who want fun. So learning a little bit of theory is okay, but just a little. They really want to get on with the practical exercises. Sitting still for too long makes them more likely to be disruptive and start chatting to a neighbour, so you have to keep your presentation moving, interesting and interactive.

Regardless of personality style, adults are often visual learners but this doesn't mean that you drag out the boring slideshows, and then proceed to read what the slides say. No, this means use visuals. Remember: A picture is worth a hundred words.

If you are making a pitch to just one person or a small group, ask yourself what personality style they might be, and present accordingly. When people feel you are connecting and understand what they want, that can make all the difference in closing the deal.

It isn't easy or possible to please everyone when you are speaking publicly, but if you keep the different personality styles in mind, and weave something in that will appeal to each style, you are more likely to rate well and hopefully no one will put you in that bottom third.