Carrots, and, um, Sticks

October 21, 2014 in Author, Barbara Egel, Delivery, Presentation

Barbara Egel, Coach at Turpin CommunicationRecently in a Speaking with Confidence and Clarity workshop, I was coaching a young man who was counting his “ums” as he watched his video. This was a continuation of something that had gone on in the main room with the whole class: they were counting each others’ “ums” and “uhs.” As he quantified his errors, I realized that he was taking part in the very natural—and completely unproductive—behavior of beating himself up for irrelevant transgressions. After all, the “ums” weren’t that distracting. If he hadn’t pointed them out, I would have missed most of them.

Focusing on the mistakes just makes more of them

The problem with taking note of every “um” (or “uh,” “like,” “and stuff,” “you know”) you say is that you issue yourself a little mental punishment, like a tiny electric shock, every time you do. Punishment instills fear, and fear pulls you out of your engagement with your audience, often leading to more of the behavior you were trying to limit. In other words, focusing on your bad moves gives them way too much power and increases the chance they will happen again.[Tweet “Focusing on your bad moves gives them way too much power and feeds their ability to happen again and again.”]

So what’s the solution? Reward.

I suggested to this learner that rather than falling into the self-defeating spiral of counting his “ums,” he should instead find moments to reward himself for staying engaged and on track (in spite of the “ums”) with a big helping of oxygen. Yep, just take a breath. A breath is a pause, and pausing is a powerful engagement technique. Not only will he pull away from the disengaging punishment spiral, but he’ll actually be moving in the opposite direction toward meaningful engagement. This will boost his confidence, literally feed his brain, and calm his nerves. [Tweet “Find moments to reward yourself for staying engaged and on track with a big helping of oxygen.”]

Treat yourself!

My challenge to you, then, is to escape the punishment cycle and find your during-your-presentation reward in a nice big breath. By doing so, you will give yourself time to think, engage, and really connect with your audience and yourself.

By Barbara Egel, Presentation Coach at Turpin Communication and editor of “The Orderly Conversation.”

What We Can Learn from the Oscars

February 26, 2013 in Assessing Your Default, Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, Facilitation, FAQs, Myths Debunked, Presentation

I watched the 85th annual Oscar telecast on Sunday. I usually watch the show, and this year I actually stayed awake until the end. What I like about the Oscars is not so much who wins, but what people say after they’ve won one. I don’t know why, but there is something really enjoyable (and not necessarily in a kind way) about watching someone experience an incredible career high and immediately have to speak to an audience of millions about it.

The pleasure is greatest with the acting categories, of course, because the contrast is so great. Here are people who can deliver amazing performances on film and then struggle just like the rest of would during the acceptance speech.

For business people it reinforces just how challenging delivering a presentation actually is.

Because when you think about it, an acceptance speech—in terms of how it’s prepared and delivered—is not that different than a presentation. They are both in their own ways, Orderly Conversations. I’m sure every nominee, even if they thought they had no chance of winning, had a plan. They thought about what they wanted to say and the order in which they wanted to say it. Some of them thought about the message they wanted to get across (Ben Affleck’s was that when you get knocked down in life, “All that matters is that you gotta get up.”)

Beyond those basics, though, there are other similarities. So here is a list of statements that are true for both the presentations you deliver and Oscar acceptance speeches.

  • Scripting doesn’t work. The best thing about this year’s show was that no one I saw pulled out a piece of paper, unfolded it, and started reading. When winners read a script like that they are never engaging or interesting.
  • People are nervous but they work through it. It’s interesting to go back and watch the acceptance speeches online. What you notice is that almost everyone is nervous at first (usually having a hard time catching their breath and saying a lot of ums and uhs), but they pause, breathe, think, and then settle down. Adele was the only winner who never fully gained her composure during her acceptance. The good thing is that she also made fun of herself for it. Which brings me to this comparison.
  • When they make mistakes, they laugh at themselves and move on. What did Jennifer Lawrence say after she fell walking up the stairs? “You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell.” That’s a perfect recovery.
  • Speaking quickly when you’re running out of time doesn’t help. Ben Affleck tried that last night before he got to the closing I quoted above (which was very well delivered). When he was speeding along he lost control and got into trouble with his “marriage is hard work” remark.
  • The best ones feel spontaneous. It doesn’t matter if acceptance speeches aren’t perfect. Those of us in the audience don’t want to see perfectly planned performances. The acceptance speech is one of the few times the public sees actors as they really are (or as close as we’ll ever get to it). We want to see them in the moment, responding to what’s happening in a genuine way. The same can be said for your presentations.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication

Applying Presentation Skills to a Game of Charades

November 27, 2012 in Author, Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Presentation

greg 200x300Last Thursday I spent Thanksgiving Day with family and friends. After the over-the-top dinner (prepared by my good friend Olive) had been devoured and dishes were done, family and friends retired to the living room to play a game similar to Charades. Hilarity ensued, of course. But I wasn’t doing very well when it came to helping my teammates accumulate points.

Each time I got up in front of the group, I became nervous and self-conscious. At one point I was trying to act out “cannon.” My head was foggy, I couldn’t think and I was getting nowhere. All I could think to do was light a match and cover my ears. No surprise they couldn’t guess correctly. I did very little to help them understand what I was doing.

After that round, I sat there thinking about not being a very good player. What was I doing wrong? I used to be an actor for Pete’s sake! I should be able to nail this.

Then it occurred to me. I had been internally focused. I dove in without a plan and didn’t give my teammates any context. I did not invite them into my world or try to make it easy for them to understand what I was doing. I’m not even sure I looked at them. I certainly don’t remember seeing their faces.

And THIS is exactly what happens to nervous presenters. A-Ha! I needed to follow Turpin’s advice.

So, leading up to my next turn I reminded myself to breathe and think and look my teammates in the eye. My first responsibility was to provide context, then tell the story. I know this stuff. I teach it all the time in our presentation skills workshops.

“Here goes,” I thought as I chose the card containing the word I’d soon have to act out. And the word was … “stripper.” Yup. Stripper. Oh dear.

I took a deep breath and thought about how to provide context. With my plan in place, I looked at my teammates. I put on a seductive grin, and lifted an eye brow. Then I started swaying to the music in my head. Next I unbuttoned a button on my shirt. Then another. I mimed taking it off and swinging it around my head before tossing it into the room.

“Stripper!” Dan yelled.

(Thank you, Dan. I owe you. My next move would not have been pretty.)

So … lesson learned. Think. Breathe. Look people in the eye. Provide context.

And what do you know? Presentation skills CAN apply to situations other than the board room. I’ve been saying this for years. It’s good to know it’s actually true.

My team won, by the way.

By Greg Owen-Boger, VP and Trainer at Turpin Communication

How Can I Help a Nervous Presenter?

August 20, 2012 in Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Nervousness, Posts for Buyers, Preparation, Presentation

This article was originally published July 23, 2012 by Mondo Learning Solutions.

greg 200x300Managers often come to us and ask how they can help their team members get a handle on the nervousness they experience when presenting. This isn’t surprising, of course, since this type of nervousness is a real issue for a lot of people. We all experience it differently and to varying degrees, but the reality is that being nervous is no fun. And that’s true for speakers as well as for audience members having to suffer through someone else’s nervousness.

Unfortunately there is no quick fix that will work for everyone. Nervousness is triggered by different things. For some, it’s audience size. For others, it’s who’s in the audience. Level of knowledge of the topic often plays a role. Many people have a broken record playing in their heads repeating some well-meaning feedback they received but have taken the wrong way. (“You should be more energetic.” “Smile more, you look mad.” “Don’t turn your back.”) For others the repeating voice is a self-critical one. “You said that wrong.” “That’s not how you rehearsed it.” “Crap, you forgot to mention X.” “They don’t think you’re smart enough.”

Who could be in control with all those thoughts swimming around?

So, when it comes to helping your employees manage their nerves, it has to start with helping them quiet the voices in their heads, gain control of their thoughts, and settle into the conversation. During everyday interactions they aren’t nervous. They’re engaged, and they zig and zag following the natural unrehearsed path of the conversation. A similar organic process should happen in presentations too.

Presentations need to feel like conversations
Understanding that key concept – that presentations should feel like conversations – is the first step toward managing nerves. It takes away the pressure of having to be perfect, having to say something just right. It also turns the focus of the interaction outward, away from self and toward others. When this happens, the presenter sees faces, responds naturally and settles into the conversation.

Of course, the conversation is mostly being led by the presenter, who has (hopefully) spent some time thinking about the goals of the presentation and the organization of it. The course the conversation follows, though, is in direct response to the feedback received from the listeners. If you can help your employees understand that the audience is a necessary part of the conversation—not passive observers of it—they’ll be on the right track.

Fueling the brain
I like to tell workshop participants, “your brain is a good one, but it needs fuel to be smart.” The fuel comes from a pause and a breath. Pausing gives the brain the time and energy it needs to do its job. Again, we do this naturally in everyday conversation.

Expect some resistance
When you bring this up to your staff, you should expect a little resistance. There are three issues they may have. First, they will want to know how long a pause should be. Second, they’ll probably say that they feel foolish when they pause. Finally, they will worry about the audience’s perception of a pause, “They will think I’ve lost my place.”

Each of these questions stems from the false notion that a presentation is a performance. It’s important to remind your employees that the presentations they deliver are not performances, they’re conversations. During a conversation, there are no rules about how long a pause should be. They just need to occur naturally as part of the process. When they do, they won’t feel foolish. During the pause, an engaged presenter will simply use the time to breathe and think about what’s to come. Finally, pauses are seldom awkward for audience members because they, too, are engaged in the conversation. During a pause they’re digesting what was just said and getting ready to hear what’s next.

So, bottom line: How can you help a nervous presenter?

  1. Help them understand that presentations are conversations, not performances. There’s no “right way” to do or say anything.
  2. Remind them that they’re speaking with people not at them. This will focus their attention on the individuals in the audience and remind them to look for – and respond to – audience reactions.
  3. Remind them to pause and breathe.

Managing nervousness isn’t something that can be conquered overnight. It takes time, experience, and a shift in traditional thinking. But it can be done. Your job, as manager, is to gently nudge your team along step by step, reminding them of the concepts outlined here.

By Greg Owen-Boger, VP and Trainer at Turpin Communication