Gender-based audiences – differences?

I’ve been involved in a couple of very interesting debates recently about the differences between men and women. One is in a closed group on Facebook so I can’t point you towards it, but the other is Suze’s stuff that I respond to here.

A very dear (female) friend mentioned to my wife recently that I was “…doing the Man Thing”, by which she meant that I was responding to the question I’d been asked and only the literal question! 🙂

All of which got me to thinking about how to treat audiences differently if they’re predominantly comprised of men or women.


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At first thought, my response is a straight-forward “yes”. A good presenter designs for the audience and their need, so if men and women have different needs, the presentation will be designed and delivered differently just as if it was being designed differently if it was to be given to an audience of adults vs children; or accountants vs non-accountants; or geeks vs normal people! 😉

That, of course, pre-supposes that there are differences in gender-needs as an audience.

Health Warning

Generalisations are always risky – all someone needs to do, if they want to undermine you or discredit you, is find the exception to your rule and build on that. For example, it’s true in a general sense that ‘men are taler than women’ – but that doesn’t mean that every man is taller than every women… it’s a simplification and an abstraction.

Some things are statistically true rather than always true. Smokers die younger, blondes have more fun…. 🙂
Take anything about ‘how to’ with a pinch of ‘generalisation salt’!


I’m sure there are statistically true statements about the needs of men and women. But does that matter in the real world? I’d say not.

The reason is that for the vast majority of presenters, the topic and the audience are at least partially pre-determined. That means that in reality the chance to take gender into account is limited.

In any case, if you’re addressing a group of accountants, which is more important, the fact that they’re accountants or the fact that they’re men? Now I’m not pretending that the fact that they’re men and the fact that they’re accountants aren’t related (are most accountants women or men?) but it seems to me that their ‘accountant-ness’ is more important that whether they are male accountants of female accountants.

The exception, of course, is if you’re addressing a specialist group of – say – female accountants! 🙂

Audience composition

For a variety of reasons I semi-routinely find myself presenting in front of audiences which comprise almost (or even completely) exclusively of women. Talking to fellow speakers however, I find that I’m pretty much in the minority here. A few of my colleagues tell me they tend to work with men-only groups far more than women-only groups. The vast majority of the time, we agree, our audiences are mixed.

What that means to us a professional presenters is that to take account of gender differences between men and women in our audiences we’d need to plump for one of two routes.

Firstly, we could accommodate the needs of both in our presentations. Sometimes no doubt that would be straight-forward (such as allowing for the fact that more men are red-green colour-blind than are women) but Murphy’s Law suggests that more often than not, such an accommodation would be tricky.

Secondly, we could work with the mode of the audience. Presenting in a style which appeals to the majority of audience members makes sense, but if the ration of men to women is, say, 51:49 it would be a brave presenter who disregarded the needs of the 49%!

Obviously a common-sense compromise is needed based upon the ease of integrating the accommodation and the composition of the audience… and the size of any difference in male and female needs!

So far, I have to say, I don’t feel like I’m convincing myself about much! 🙂


Maybe this is more like it?

But for a presenter’s style of presenting to change according to the gender of my audience it would have to be the case that men and women received information – or encoded it/memorised it – in different ways.

Not only that, but the difference between men and women would need to be large enough to justify the incipient risks for a presenter in moving away from his or her natural style. If all that’s required is a simple change in the wording of a slide for example, there’s no problem but………

What options have we got for discriminating between male and female learning styles? The VAK model was pretty much exploded as empirically unsubstantiated a while ago, so I’m not going to worry about that one but what about some of the other models of learning?

I use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) quite a bit for a number of things, including, of course, presentation skills training. One of the main elements of MBTI is the tenet that people make decisions in one of two ways – in the jargon these are referred to either as Thinking or Feeling. It’s annoying jargon because it doesn’t mean that Thinkers can’t feel or that Feelers can’t think.

If you aren’t sure about the whole concept of MBTI it might be worthwhile spending a short while getting used to the ideas… because the only one of the four dichotomies in MBTI that has a gender bias is the Thinking/Feeling one. 60% of women are Feelers and 60% of men are Thinkers.

To be honest though, a ten percentage-point shift from random (50% to 60%) is hardly earth-shattering… but in terms of our search for something to differentiate men and women’s needs for presenters to behave differently at least it’s a start.

How about the other learning styles? I must admit, I’m not familiar with anything which suggests a significant gender difference of the top of my head but my research isn’t complete. I’ll report back when/if I find or remember something.

No doubt, gentle reader, you’ll be able to point me to stuff I’ve not read yet…..?

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