If we can agree that it’s a good idea to see things from the audience’s point of view, we can also agree that it’s easier said than done. When it comes to understanding people there’s no easy answer, because people are not easy to understand. We should know, because most of us have a hard time even understanding ourselves.
One helpful way to increase understanding is to explore the field of personality types. The basic idea is that people don’t all act the same way; rather, they fall into different categories of personalities, and when you know what they are, it can help you understand how and why someone behaves a certain way. The idea of personality types has been around as long as the zodiac with its 12 signs determining personality traits. The psychologist Carl Jung developed the idea of archetypes, a set of common patterns that shape someone’s personality, and during World War II the Myers-Briggs psychological test took Jung’s work and developed 16 human temperaments. The Enneagram system identifies nine personality types, and Daniel Goleman’s work in emotional intelligence describes five emotional competencies. In business, Robert Miller’s book Five Paths to Persuasion describes 5 executive decision-making types, as he described in a Sociable Media interview here.
There are many other personality-typing systems, but whatever system or explanation you find useful, the goal is the same – to find a way to better understand the people we are communicating with.
So how can we bring this all back down to PowerPoint?
Tip: When you start designing your next communication experience, take some time to discuss with your team everything that you know about your specific audience.
Create a slide with the picture of a specific audience member, or a silhouette if you don’t have one. Put the name of the person on the slide, or if you’re speaking to a large group, consider the slide a composite of the average audience member. Ask your group, What do we know about this person? What have we heard about his personality type? How does she make decisions? What can we learn from a web search about his thinking process? What can we learn from our social network about how she works with other people? And, most importantly, How do we fashion an experience in the most effective way to align with their interests and personality types (not ours)? Type the information on the slide as your group gives feedback, so everyone has all the information captured on a PowerPoint slide.
When you do this, several valuable things happen. First, you’ve tapped into the collective thinking of your group to better understand your audience. You’ve thought more deeply about your audience, and of course your purpose, which will significantly improve the quality of your presentation experience. And an extra bonus: These slides can become the basis of a valuable visual database of information that can help you and other people in your organization in other presentations.
The more clearly we see other people, the clearer our communications will become.