Friday, May 9, 2008

factor in your speaking personality type

Because I've taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment of my personality preferences, I know I'm an ENTJ--an extroverted, intuitive, thinking, judger. That tells me a lot about who I am as a public speaker. As someone who tilts strongly into the extrovert camp, I get energized by audiences. As a "thinker," I'm more analytical and less emotional. As an intuitive, I'm good at sensing an audience's mood and switching gears to meet it, and I look for possibilities in new situations.

I was reminded about why this is important to women and public speaking this morning, thanks to Marci Alboher's excellent Shifting Careers blog at the New York Times, which today points out blogger Michael Melcher's attempt to analyze the Myers-Briggs personality types of the presidential candidates. Here's a bit about how he devines Hillary Clinton's personality type (emphasis added):
Introversion/extraversion refer to where people get their energy. Extraverts get their energy from other people, the external world, and experiences. Introverts get their energy from themselves or their own space. Extraverts are often chatty, social and open; introverts are often quiet, reflective and contained. Introverts open up to their close friends; extraverts open up to everyone. Bill Clinton is clearly an extravert; I think Hillary is an introvert...Since 75% of the population is extraverted, extraverts are considered normal...Introverts often have to feign extraversion to succeed in the professional world; their natural style is often not valued. Much of the criticism of Hillary Clinton's authenticity is criticism of her introversion.
As one who had my personality type professionally assessed, I also learned that, on the thinking/feeling scale, the majority of men fall into the "T" camp and the majority of women in the "F" camp. As a result, men whose personality types have a stronger "feeling" preference and women with a stronger "thinking" preference are bound to be misunderstood by others--they're literally not acting to (the more common) type.

It's important for women to factor in their personality type as well as their gender when considering what works for them as speakers. Introverts may need to schedule some down time before and after a speech or presentation, as the experience might use up much more energy than it would for an extrovert. (It's exhausting, colleagues have told me, to stretch themselves in this way.) Women who score higher as analytical "thinkers" should understand that they'll be misunderstood by both men and women in the audience. (Being a strong "thinker," by the way, doesn't mean you don't get emotional--everyone has some of each pair of traits, with a preference for one more than the other.) I've observed in many discussions with women about public speaking that some assume their difficulties are based on gender bias, when they may simply reflect a personality preference on their part and the part of the audience members.

For an easy read on figuring out your own (and others') Myers-Briggs types, check out Type Talk and Type Talk at Work, or check with your human resources office about taking the personality type assessment. It's often a relief to find out how your type reacts in a variety of settings--public speaking included--and to use that knowledge to make your path easier.