The idea that there are four types of people is very, very old (remember earth, air, water and fire?); and sometimes the categories have been very, very weird (salamanders? bile people?).
But the modern version of this theory is very, very good — and knowing the four types of people who are likely to show up in your public speaking audience can help you speak more confidently and connect with more ease. That’s because each of the four public speaking personalities listens differently, has different areas of interest, and is persuaded (or moved) by different things.
And you don’t just want to know your audience’s public speaking personality — you also want to know your own. Understanding your public speaking personality will help you build on your strengths and minimize weakness, and will help you communicate effectively with audiences or individuals in every group.
The 4 Public Speaking Personalities Are All Good
I once had the “experience” of speaking to an audience of Experiencers — a personality that’s very different from mine. Knowing about, and accepting, those differences made it easier for me to bridge the gap and enjoy a challenge that had previously seemed overwhelming.
Experiencers are just one of the personality groups. Here’s a quick overview of all four — and here’s where you’ll find more detailed information about how to communicate with each one.
Reliables: “Just Say No”
Reliables (also known as Guardians) are the people who make the trains run on time. Buttoned-down, respectful of tradition, very concerned with doing what should be done, they can often be found in big, hierarchical organizations — and the closer you get to the top of the ladder, the more guardians you’ll find, because their ability to make decisions and give (or follow) orders makes them invaluable to the organization.
If you chose to work at a solid company with a history of success, you may well be a Reliable, too; close to four out of 10 people, equally male and female, are.
Helpers: “I’m here to help”
A smaller group (12% of the population), Helpers (also known as Visionaries), make a big impact through their passion for helping others live more fulfilling lives.
Helpers are values-driven — whatever their values may be — and emotionally intense; they despise inter-personal conflict, and tend to take things personally. 70% of Helpers are women, and since they’re also drawn to helping professions, it’s not surprising that their approach often gets belittled. But Oprah Winfrey and fashion designer Eileen Fisher have clearly shown that Helpers who are true to their missions can be tremendously successful in the public and business spheres.
Improvers (also known as Rationals) are also 12% of the population, and 7 out of 10 are male. Independent thinkers, they value competence, innovation and continuous improvement. They love debate, and will sometimes argue a position they don’t believe in, just for fun.
Improvers, like Helpers, aren’t “company” women and men. They function best independently, and are drawn to jobs like journalism, the law or entrepreneurship, where being smart gets you ahead and being critical won’t (usually) get you fired.
Also known as Artisans, Experiencers are action-orient, fun-loving people who would rather do something than talk about it. Body-building champion Linda Wood-Hoyte (shown here at age 63) exemplified that attitude when she said, in an interview, that for her 60th birthday she set (and met) a goal of squatting with 450 pound weights. She also countered her fear of motorcycles not by reading a psychology book but by learning to drive one.
Although Experiencers can be incredibly smart, they get major disrespect from a school system (ours) that values sitting still above physical courage, and solving abstract problems above solving concrete ones.
Which Public Speaking Personality Are You? Which One is Your Audience?
To be your best as a public speaker, you’ll find it useful to know both those answers. Sometimes there’s a great match between your temperament and the audience’s, but often there is not — and knowing how to talk to people of temperaments that are different from your own will give you confidence, savvy and the skills to make your talk go well.