I’m as qualified as you can get in the psychometric instrument called the Myers Briggs Type Indicator and very experience. (Side note: if you read anything which talks about the test, stop reading; it means the writer doesn’t know what they’re talking about.) And believe me, I know it has holes in it big enough to drive a double decker bus through!
It’s had a lot of bad coverage and bad press recently too – some of it valid, other bits based upon half-arsed research and mis-understandings of what it tries to measure. The fact remains however, that valid or not as pure psychology defines the term, many people find it remarkably useful. Here, for example is a report of a pretty hard-nosed tech company finding it improved productivity for 98% of their staff. Our experience is that at the very least it provides people with a language with which they can then discuss how to make improvements.
If you stick to the old-fashioned Step 1 test (the famous one that gives you a four character summary of your personality’s preferences for certain types of thinking) one of the four characters deals directly with how you prefer to receive information. There’s a reasonable chance that if this is how you like to receive information in presentations you attended that you’ll, by default, tend to deliver information in a similar way.
Obviously, we’re going to be pretty interested in this division. To over-simplify, MBTI suggests that people with what it calls a Sensing preference (or S for short) have an affinity to detail, precision, the concrete and what they can feel, touch, see etc. They have a tendency towards stability in comparison to people with an iNtuitive preference (or N for short, the I having been used elsewhere). N-preference people tend towards analogy, pattern, linking and change, with less interest in detail but an eye to the overview, towards analogy. They’re less interested in what is, and more looking towards what could be.
How does that manifest in your presentations?
S-preferences tend to build sequential presentations, step by step, outlining the problem, their research into the solution, the caveats to that research, the possible solutions themselves, the strengths and weaknesses of each possible solution in turn and then finally their recommended solution. From an N-preference perspective that’s a lot of mind-numbing and un-necessary detail.
The risk for S-preference people is that N-preferences will lose the will to pay attention (or even the will to live!). They’ll accuse their S-preference colleagues of not being able to see the wood for the trees. Conversely, N-preference presenters will not give the detail or sequence that people with an S-preference prefer and they’ll end up skeptical of what is being delivered, feeling it doesn’t have sufficient gravitas.
So what’s to be done?
Well the obvious starting point is to figure out your preference and make conscious efforts to work in the opposite way, as well as your own (not instead of – don’t try and work ‘in the middle’ because that way you risk pleasing no one). Of course that’s easier said than done, but our experience is that just being aware of the issue can have quite clear effects.
During my training courses I offer participants the chance to download a couple of my books and few training/briefing papers after the session, so that they don’t need to take notes if they don’t way to, and so that they’ve got some revision material for later.
Realising that S-preference people prefer the concrete rather than the abstract I now make that same offer but I also show them physical, printed versions of the books that I’ve had ring-bound, so that they can be re-assured that these are real, physical things.
As a further note, I tell people that the downloads will be available from…. Why? Because if they’re available now and there’s a good wifi connection, some of my audience (with an S-preference mainly) will start the download process and pay less attention to what I’m saying.
Another key practice for N-preference people is to be absolutely sure about the things on your slides which don’t feel important to you. If they can’t trust you labels on your graphs, think Ss, how can they trust your data in those graphs? From my point of view, as an N, my response is to regard labels as just labels: after all, I reason, people know what I mean, it’s no big deal. But it is.
What do you do if you have a mixed audience?
Obviously you need to keep both sides happy. The question is ‘how?’. My suggestion is based upon a lot of experience (not all of it good!). Here you go…. give the overview first, addressed fair-and-square to the N-preferences in your audience. Then give the details if appropriate.
- It shouldn’t take you long to give an overview, suitable for N-preferences and S-preferences can ‘put up with’ you being superficial (as they might see it) for a relatively short period of time. By comparison, it will take you longer to give information in ways that S-preference people prefer – too long, in fact, for N-preferences
- Don’t forget that N-preference people aren’t allergic to detail, it’s just that they need the big picture as a framework to hook those details onto
- If you run out of time, at least you’ve kept half your audience happy
- People tend not to remember much detail from presentations anyway (whether S- or N-preference) and so you can (should?) always offer follow-up details in downloadable hardcopy format.
- Don’t panic – you can’t win them all, so don’t try… just the simple fact that you’re thinking about this will make it more likely you’ll get it right :)