In Mindwatching – Why we behave the way we do, Hans Eysenck proves that shy or introverted people have higher habitual levels of mental arousal than extroverted or outgoing people, who have a low level of arousal.
At first this may seem surprising as shy people are associated with being less excitable, while extroverts are always hopping about the place. However, it begins to make sense given:
a. Introverted people tend to engage in low-key activities to avoid contact with too many people. Why? Because too much contact or mixing with others increases their mental arousal to an unpleasant degree.
b. In contrast, extroverted people tend to be sensation-seekers and attempt to top-up their normally low arousal levels by seeking brighter colours, variation, more people and louder music. However if things are dull, it lowers their naturally low arousal level to a painful new low.
What does this mean for your next presentation?
For starters, don’t assume that the audience is the same personality type as you. For example, an extrovert might wrongly assume that, like her, everyone needs to be taken to a higher place of arousal, so she might start her presentation with ‘get to know you’ games and other forms of ‘on the spot’ audience interaction. This may have a negative effect on the audience who may not need or want arousal.
Likewise, an introverted speaker, always looking to lower arousal levels, might start his presentation slowly in the belief (conscious or otherwise) that his audience is appreciating his methodical approach and taking valuable notes during the presentation. This may also have a negative effect on the solely extroverted audience members, who in this instance may need arousal from this quiet state.
To help understand audience arousal and its effect on your presentation, try the following:
1. Take a few moments to think about your audience. Try to determine whether each member is introverted or extroverted. Some job-roles can help you to determine this: analytical or back-office roles may indicate introversion; customer facing or front-office may suggest extroverted personalities. A short conversation with each audience member can help – eg: “What do you expect from tomorrow’s presentation?”. Note their response in terms of emotive language (extroverted) or more analytical, business linked outcomes (introverted).
2. If dealing with larger numbers, think about breaking up meeting or presentation groups according to their personality style. This is a more certain way to achieve the outcome you desire.
3. Think about neutralising your personal style. This means toning down some more obvious signs of flamboyance, and lifting some potentially dry areas of your presentation style. Note: this doesn’t mean a departure from your natural style, which is the right style for you. It is suggesting however that some subtle changes in language or support materials can help get the audience’s support. Some personal coaching from a more experienced mentor can help.
The Eysencks have it right – paying attention to the arousal levels of those around you will make you a much more accomplished presenter. For more information and tips on presenting with clarity and confidence please give me a call!