Delivering presentations for personality types

MBTI-logo-RRWhatever model of psychometrics you subscribe to (or none!), it’s a truth universally acknowledged (to abuse Jane Austin) that your audience will consist of different types of people, with different personalities.

For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to use the MBTI distinction between people with Sensing and iNtuitive preferences – to do with whether they prefer their information with detail; with process and order; and with a bias towards what is and what can be touched/seen. And all of this in comparison to people with iNtuitive preferences for big picture; linkage and analogy; change and what could be (rather than what currently is).  Whether you’re a fan of MBTI or not, you’ll no doubt recognise the descriptions – treat the MBTI terminology simply as labels or shorthand. (There’s a lot more information online, try here…)

The problem for Ss

Right out of the gate let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room for S preference people… presentations are not a natural medium for them. Presentations need to be (as they see it) rather superficial, without the time or space to go into the necessary details, explanations and caveats -and this can set their teeth on edge. It’s important to admit it before we start!

The problem for Ns

Presentations might seem more natural to Ns, as they’re less inclined to mourn the inability to go into the nitty-gritty of detail but it’s not all plane sailing. My experience of the people I know to be Ns is that their presentations are more often overly superficial and (often, sadly) less well structured. There’s a lot of linking and flitting from one thing to another – but the links are only apparent to the presenter, inside his or her head: the audience isn’t telepathic and therefore often gets left behind or lost. It’s important to be honest about these things!

So what’s the solution?

Well, to be honest, it’s tricky. After all, if it was easy, everyone would be making great presentations and I’d be out of a living… I’ve broken it down into rather artificial steps, so feel free to blur the boundaries if you feel too constricted by them (Ns) or to use them as a route-map if it’s helpful (Ss). And for the record, I’m a little tongue-in-cheek here!

Step one

Know what you are. It’s easier to accommodate for other people if you know where you’re starting from, obviously. The ideal approach would be a full Step Two Myers Briggs assessment (It’s not a test, it’s a tool, instrument or assessment – if you find someone who calls it a test, stop them. If they’re administrating your MBTI, sack them.) Typically, however, that can be pretty expensive: they way I do them for organisations involves a half day group session then a 90 minute one-to-one with everyone involved, so there are my fees plus the licences for the assessments and reports. It all adds up. Fortunately you don’t necessarily need to go all that way – you can just have a much less format assessment (but please get it with an expert!) and get a feel for what you are yourself.

A note of caution: while that’s cheaper, it’s fraught with risk: you might not be very self aware, for example, or you might take a free-and-fake online tool etc. There’s no need to panic, just be on your guard.

Step two

Try and be your opposite. As an N, try and think like an S; if you’re S, try and be a bit more N.  Knowing what you like, think about what bugs you in presentations. Now think about who/what kind of person does that kind of presentation. Now the bad news, if their style bugs you, it’s likely that your style will bug them; and in order to make them more likely to take on board what you’re saying you need be a bit more like them. So here’s the challenge – as yourself what  you can do to make your presentations a bit more like the other side. (Note, I don’t mean you should model yourself on crap presentations – just on ones which bugged you. I’m not advocating you model yourself of people who face the screen and read their bullet points!)

Don’t worry about going to far to the other side. I suppose it’s possible, but I’ve never yet seen anyone who managed that: the most I’ve seen is someone who moved to the centre ground.

Now consider what you’re doing differently. Have you abandoned anything? Missed anything? Changed the way you do things to the point you don’t keep ‘your side’ happy? Good, it means you’re trying!  The trick though, is to find ways to do both things. Think about how you’d naturally do things and think about how you’d do things if you did it the opposite way – and now find something that works for both sides. It’s easier said than done, but you get the hang of it with practice.

Personal example: I’m an N, by instinct. But one of my team is so very, very S it hurts ;)    The obvious thing to do then is to have this team member check my presentations to see which bits annoy her the most. Those are the bits I need to think about more!

Step three

Consider your audience. The chances are your audience will be mixed, but it can’t hurt to have a think in advance about what they might be and what they might need. For example, if you’re talking to a bunch of accountants you might reasonably expect a higher proportion of Ss than if you’re talking to a group of artists (who we might reasonably expect to have a higher than average proportion of Ns).

Step four

Keep both Ns and Ss happy by:

  • providing an overview first. Don’t build up to your conclusion: give your conclusion and then provide the supporting evidence before restating it. Why? Because it’s not that Ns can’t handle details, it’s just that they appreciate a context or framework to hang those details on – hence the conclusion first. What’s more, it only takes a moment to give your Ns that overview and your Ss can handle that… but it take considerably more time to give details, which your Ss might appreciate more but can cause your Ns to lose the will to live (unless they can see where it’s going)
  • provide an option for backup detail for the Ss if they want it. For example you might say in your presentation that you carried out some statistical analysis using Principle Components Analysis with four Factors and then tell your audience that they can download a PDF after the presentation which goes into detail about how you carried out that PCA, exploring how many Factors you experimented with, a full analysis of explained variance, wither Factor Rotation was allowed at all and if so whether it was orthogonal or not etc.  Those details might not be appreciated by everyone in the audience but you can bet they’ll be needed to keep some of your Ss happy.

On a personal note, I find it useful to not only tell audiences where the details are, but show them an image of the printed document, with the URL on the screen and a hardcopy of the document in my hand – it helps Ss because of their predilection for the real and actual (rather than the hypothetical).


It’s not an easy thing to get a handle on – it’s quite an advanced set of techniques we’ve talked about here – but if you can pin it down, it’ll make a huge difference to your presentations.

Simon is one of the UK's most highly regarded presentation skills trainers and professional speakers in the fields of presenting, confidence and emotional resilience.

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