Introverts and Extroverts: Balancing Interactivity in Your Presentation

Every audience has its mix of introverts and extroverts, which means every audience has a group of people who like to think and process everything you say, and a group of people who want to interact and engage with everything you say.

For the content portions of a presentation, the difference between the two audience segments is somewhat inconsequential. For the most part, the information you give them is going to be the same, although if you delve too deep into the details you may find your extroverts whipping out the iPhones to keep from dying, and if you skip the details entirely you’ll find the introverts mentally stripping you of all credibility and worth as a presenter.

But if you keep things within a normal range of explanation, storytelling, and tempo, both groups will probably track just fine. Where you get the bigger divide from this personality gap is at the point where your presentation becomes interactive, or requires feedback or involvement from the audience. We’ve seen a lot of presenters with extroverted personalities themselves lead awkward, stop-and-start interactive sessions because they didn’t take into account the fact that half of their audience would be uncomfortable and resist many of the exercises and activities they had planned. And the same goes for those introverted presenters who fail to provide an outlet for extroverted audience members to add engagement and momentum to the interactive piece.

At its simplest, the trick is in soliciting the engagement in the first place. Rather than picking an audience member at random, which invites the risk of choosing a non-optimal personality type for your exercise or example, choose a volunteer. Put enough of a perceived “reward” on the line that your extroverts jump at the chance to display themselves. Introverts wouldn’t get up in front of a small crowd even if a $100 bill was on the line, but an extrovert will do cartwheels for a $5 Starbucks gift card.

Most of the awkwardness from an interactive component of your presentation will be alleviated simply by allowing an extrovert to volunteer for the honor of being center of attention. The introverts will get more out of the exercise by watching and observing, and if you can rifle through a couple of different extroverts, they’ll be thrilled to share the limelight for a bit.

Of course, at this point we’re still missing a key point: introverts often have extremely valuable insights, and pulling those insights out of them will help the entire discussion. You’ll find that introverts are often comfortable in the commentator’s seat: they’re happy to watch and observe, and often even happy to take the mic and point something insightful out. All you have to do as a presenter is lower that initial threshold to speaking: don’t ask people participating in a discussion to stand up, introduce themselves, walk to a center aisle, etc. Make it easy for audience comments to be heard from wherever the commenter is sitting by controlling the noise of the room and using raised hands as a way of organizing the flow of ideas. You’ll find that your introverts begin to loosen up and share their insights with the audience, and the level of depth they tend to offer will often drive the entire discussion deeper than you might have otherwise gotten with the group.

So next time you’re asking the audience to get involved, make sure you create space for everyone to comfortably engage with what you’re doing.

Question: What do you do to spark initial discussion, but also drive that discussion deeper than just surface-level talk?

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