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Who Are You Speaking To, Anyway?


By Claudia Brogan

Back when I was in high school speech class, little did I guess that my life’s journey would be focused upon ways to improve speaking skills and communication in the workplace. All I knew back then, as a junior in high school, was how fascinated I was to learn the principles of public speaking…and survive my next assigned speech for Mrs. Witmer’s class.

One day, she really got our attention with a provocative question, and her words that day have stayed with me all my life.

“There are three most important words for being an effective public speaker. What do you think they are?” she asked. We guessed: having a funny speech title, using a good clear outline, telling a story, pronouncing things clearly. “Good,” she said. “All those things really help. But the three most important words are these: Consider. Your. Audience.”

This applies to all parts of your speaking, when laying out the key points, or developing a clear, intriguing title; this is crucial when delivering your message with energy and clarity, as well as when you are suggesting how the listeners can apply what you are describing. Every time, all the time: Consider. Your. Audience.

How, then, do you find out more about the different types of people in your audience? One important area for speakers is understanding personality theory. There is a variety of personality theories and models, and some have strong scientific support. In fact, useful wisdom can be found in most of the available models although no one model holds all the answers. I have trained in the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI) to understand different personalities in the workplace, as well as studied ways to apply the Enneagram model based on ancient Sufi teachings. I have also learned how to use the DiSC profile to help individuals and work teams become more effective. And I have had great experience with an innovative tool used in schools with teachers and students, the “True Colors Inventory.” This tool is engaging and can lead to animated, down-to-earth discussions among team members on ways to improve cooperation and communication in the workplace.

I have come to believe that each of these tools can be eye-opening. Regardless of the model one studies, it is crucial to learn more about—and to consider—the various personalities that will be in your audience.

One of my favorite experiences with the wonders of having public speakers learn about personality theory happened in a project I worked on in North Carolina. A group of pastors wanted to learn about improving their speaking skills. I can still remember that “ah-ha” discussion we had, as the pastors opened their eyes to the variety of people who might be listening to a sermon of theirs. One participant exclaimed, “I see now that I have been talking to my congregation members as if they are all versions of myself: that the organization and examples in my sermon which appeal to me would be the same ones that matter to them.” This pastor came away with a fresh understanding, for instance, that some in her congregation strongly relate to a story from the pastor’s experience, while others resonate most strongly to having 2-3 key, organized points in a sermon. Some of her congregation members are most engaged when taking time to ponder a deep, significant question, while others are most intrigued with descriptions of action plans for what they can actually do about the ideas at hand.

The workshop when these pastors learned about putting personality theory into action was a great day of exploring, training, and interaction. They were each able to describe ways to benefit from factoring this in when speaking with, working with, and delivering sermons to all kinds of people. Immediately, each of these speakers could name ways they could include, respect, and address the various personalities in their congregations.

As you consider the different groups and populations that you speak to, it might indeed be worth your while to study or review the personality models which can shape the descriptions, engagement, and examples that you deliver in your next speech. Whenever you do that, keep in mind those three brilliant words taught by Mrs. Witmer in speech class: Consider. Your. Audience.

For further reading and resources, the links below will help you become familiar with the models.

There are many free, reputable examples to be found on the internet on these and other personality models for speakers.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/

Enneagram: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enneagram_of_Personality

DiSC Profile: https://discprofile.com/what-is-disc/overview/

True Colors: https://truecolorsintl.com/about-us/what-is-true-colors/


Claudia Brogan is a speaker, trainer and facilitator who helps organizations by coaching presenters, leading collaborative meetings and problem-solving with groups and teams. Reach out to see how she can help you. Contact Claudia via email at claudiabrogan @ gmail.com, through LinkedIn or by phone at 404-849-5182.