What we wish everyone knew about presentation anxiety

September 23, 2015 in Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Managing Nerves, Myths Debunked, Nervousness, Preparation, Presentation

presentation anxiety 9-23-15Last week I was working with a nervous workshop participant. Let’s call him Nate. Nate said that his biggest concern when presenting was nervousness.

“What sort of nervousness is it?” I asked since nervousness is caused by different things for different people. “Is it about the audience, the topic you’re talking about, or something else?” Nate said that his problem had to do with the fear of losing track of what he wanted to say, just getting lost in the weeds, and maybe going blank.

“Has that ever happened?” I asked.

“Yes … when I was in sixth grade. I was delivering a speech to students and parents and lost my place. I was using note cards and just panicked. I stared at the cards, not able to find my place. It was really bad.”

We laughed about the fact that something that happened in middle school still influenced his life as a business presenter. I assured him that he is not the first person to have something like that happen. Then we talked about the strategies he was using to manage his nervousness. He said he practiced his presentations as much as possible and always took notes with him in case he forgot something.

As it turned out, neither one of those solutions is right for him. The presentations Nate delivers are informal and interactive. By trying to exercise tight control over what he said, he was working against his success. Instead of being open and responsive to his audience’s needs, he was wasting mental energy trying to say precisely what he planned to say.[Tweet “By trying to exercise tight control over what he said, he was working against his success.”]

The solution

We found that there are two strategies that would work better.

  1. Prepare to be flexible. Rather than scripting and relying on note cards, Nate found that using his practice time to get comfortable with the main points he wanted to make helped him stay on track. After all, Nate was technical by nature, so the details always came easily. It was the main points, the big picture, that often got lost. I encouraged him to substitute the script in his head with an outline.
  2. Let your slides be your guide. The first time Nate went through his presentation, I noticed that he was talking about what was on his slides, but he was ignoring the slides themselves. He was focused on his note cards. By encouraging him to use the slides as his guide (yes, even if that meant looking at them and turning away from his audience) he would have a much easier time of it. By acknowledging the slide and talking about what it shows (again, big picture), he had an easy time getting his head around the content.

Nate discovered something important. The process of preparing for an Orderly Conversation is very different than preparing for a speech. While using note cards and scripting may seem like the easiest way to guarantee a clear and persuasive message, it’s not. Staying out of the weeds and remembering what to say has to do with two things: (1) how you prepare and (2) trusting the framework created by your slides.

by Dale Ludwig, President & Founder of Turpin Communication and co-author of the book, “The Orderly Conversation”

Three ways to deliver better presentations more easily

September 23, 2014 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivering Your Presentation, Preparation, Presentation

dale_ludwig_hi-res_colorIf you’re a business presenter, you know that the presentations you deliver serve one purpose—they help you get business done. Your presentations aren’t big speeches. They aren’t TED talks. They’re practical, necessary, and far too often time-consuming and frustrating. If you’re like most presenters you probably spend too much time worrying that you’re over- or under-prepared, wondering if the slides you’re using will do the job, and struggling to follow the rules of delivery.

What if things could be different? What if your next presentation was a comfortable interaction between you and your audience, a kind of conversation that gets business done smoothly and efficiently? It can be if you turn away from the speechmaking strategies you’ve been taught and approach your presentation as if it were a conversation.

[Tweet “#Presentations serve one purpose—they help you get #business done.”]The problem business presenters face is fundamental. The assumption—reinforced in school and training classes—has always been that a speech and a presentation are essentially the same process, the difference between them measured in degrees of formality. Speeches are formal. Presentations less so.

This assumption encourages business presenters to bring the wrong tools to the job. It’s like using a sledgehammer to hang a picture on the wall—not only awkward but a little dangerous as well. This mismatch in approach has real-life consequences. Among them, increased nervousness for presenters, wasted preparation time, stilted delivery, and a tendency to blame PowerPoint for every presentation ill.

So let’s look at a new way to do things. If you approached your next presentation as a type of conversation, not a type of speech, what would you do differently? What adjustments would you need to make?

1. Prepare a frame, not a script
Conversations are spontaneous processes. Someone speaks as someone listens, back and forth. The same thing happens during a business presentation, the difference being there is someone in charge, someone leading the conversation. And that person, the presenter, has a goal that can only be reached through the conversation.

So how do you prepare for that? Not by scripting because that prevents the conversation from taking place. Not by ignoring preparation altogether because that leads to confusion and frustrated audience members. The solution is to build a frame for the conversation to take place within. A solid frame assures your audience of four things: you have a plan, you know what you want, you understand their perspective, and there is a reason for them to care about what you’re talking about.

The first few slides in your presentation should emphasize the frame you’ve built. Use an agenda slide, a slide that identifies your audience’s current situation, and maybe include a slide that lists the audience’s takeaways from your presentation. The number and type of slides really doesn’t matter as long as you communicate the frame. While the frame doesn’t communicate a lot of content, it does establish you as someone who has the audience’s need for clarity and efficiency in mind.

2. Bring content slides into the conversation, because they’re more than “visuals aids”
The conventional wisdom about the visual component in presentations holds that slides must be as simple as possible, images are more persuasive than bullet points, and presenters should never, ever read what’s on the slide. I might be able to make a case for each of these ideas if we were talking about speeches, but we’re not. So let’s take a closer look at how content slides should be used in a business presentation.

I’m fairly sure that many of the slides you use would not pass the scrutiny of a professional designer. There are a two reasons for this—your audience and the amount of time you have. First, your audience may want and need to see the details, the data, the spreadsheet. Information like that can’t be designed into a beautiful slide. Your job, then, is to bring that information into the conversation, and (just as important) make it understandable and useful. Second, you probably don’t have the time to create well-designed slides anyway. So there’s no point beating yourself up about it. Just be sure that when you’re talking about a complex slide you communicate the point you need to make. Don’t just talk about the details on the slide.

3. Initiate the conversation, don’t strive for perfect delivery
When your presentation begins, it’s your job to bring the people you’re talking to into the conversation. That requires focusing on conversation skills, not delivery skills. Here’s the difference. Delivery skills are about appearances. They are about how you look and sound to your audience. Delivery skills are developed through rehearsal and lead to a type of performance.

Conversation skills are used to initiate an interaction and keep it going. They do more than make you look and sound good. They help you establish a genuine connection between you and your audience. When that happens, your natural communication instincts will kick in and your nerves will be under control.

What are the most crucial conversational skills for presenters? Eye contact and pausing. Eye contact helps you connect with your audience. You can’t have a good face-to- face conversation without it. Pausing helps you think on your feet and stay in the moment. This may sound awfully simple, but it takes conscious effort to calm your mind and focus on others when you’re feeling the stress of presenting. So at the beginning of your presentation, focus on one of these skills, whichever one works better for you.

When it’s time for your next business presentation, turn away from traditional speechmaking and embrace the essential, conversational nature of presenting. When you do, you’ll get business done more easily.

by Dale Ludwig, President & Founder of Turpin Communication and co-author of the book, “The Orderly Conversation”

The 2 Levels of Defining Presentation Success

June 3, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Facilitation, Presentation, Training

Your success as a business presenter always exists on two levels.

  1. On one level it is determined by whether the stated goal of the presentation is reached. Did the buyer agree to buy, for example. Or, did your team see the need for the new procedure you’re asking them to follow? This type of success is fairly easy to measure.
  2. The other level of success is more difficult. It is a measure of how effectively you managed the process of presenting. Or, as we look at it, did you manage the conversation in an appropriately orderly fashion?

The second level of success often determines the first. I’m sure there are times when a poorly managed presentation achieves the goal it was intended to reach. But when you consider how the process felt to the audience—frustrating, inefficient, a waste of time—such a presentation can hardly be considered a complete success.

Presenting is Part of Your Everyday Work

The thing we need to remember is that presentations are part of everyone’s day-to-day work. So when presenters fail to manage the process well, they’re making it difficult for audience members to do their jobs. When that happens, audience members are stuck. After all, they are captive. They don’t have the option of walking out or flipping to a new channel. So what they often do is silently disengage. They might feel a sudden need to check their email or think about dinner, doing whatever they can to cope with a bad situation.

Most of the time this reaction has little to do with the goal of the presentation (level 1) and everything to do with whether the presenter is managing the conversation effectively (level 2).

For example, if you’re delivering market research to a group of sales people, your audience wants to understand the research, but they also want you to make understanding it easy. That level of success goes beyond the information itself. It involves:

  • Emphasizing context and relevance
  • Providing perspective
  • Leaving out information that isn’t useful to your audience (whether you want to or not)
  • Caring about their understanding and buy in
  • Being responsive to the in-the-moment needs of the audience

Business presentations are a collaborative process. Pulling your slides together and having a specific goal is only the first step, and that step alone will never guarantee success. A successful presentation is one in which the audience and the presenter work together in a fruitful, efficient process.

[Tweet “A successful presentation has audience and presenter working together.”]

by Dale Ludwig, President & Founder of Turpin Communication and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Orderly Conversation”

Focus on Context

October 23, 2012 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Preparation, Presentation

If you’re a business presenter, you know that one of the challenges you face is context. Not only do you need to think about how your recommendations fit into the context of your listeners’ lives, but you also have to consider how each of your slides fits into the context of the presentation as a whole.

One way to do this is by talking about the preparation decisions you made during delivery. This might sound strange, but it makes sense. When you prepare your presentation, after all, what you’re doing is anticipating the moment of delivery. You create slides to make understanding easier. You think about what your audience will need or want to reach the decision you want them to reach.

During delivery, then, it’s useful to talk about how a particular slide found its way into the presentation. Why has this information been included? Where did it come from? What’s important about it? This information will not only make the presentation easier to follow, but it will also help you adapt to whatever digression may have taken place during the conversation.

Here are some examples.

What’s the purpose of the slide?

  • “This slide will give us some perspective on where we are with this project. As you can see, six months ago …”
  • “The information on this slide expands on the pricing information I mentioned earlier.”

When was the slide made?

  • “When I put this slide together, I didn’t have access to all the current data, but …”
  • “This slide is from last quarter. Let’s look at it in comparison to where we are today.”

Who created the slide?

  • “This slide came from our marketing department. It’s typically used to compare trends over time with various customers. For our purposes today we’re going to look at just this small slice of data …”
  • “I got this slide from our friends in finance, it shows us …”

What does the slide mean to the audience?

  • “I included this slide because I knew William and Patrice were unfamiliar with the decisions we reached last month. So here’s an overview of that.”
  • “For the marketing people in the room, I know some of this will be confusing. Don’t worry. This is information for the folks in Customer Care.”

What does the slide mean to you?

One way to help listeners understand data is to talk about what it means to you, especially when your function or perspective is different than theirs.

  • “From my marketing perspective, this is a trend we need to watch because …”
  • “From a financial point of view, these numbers are great, but I can’t speak about what the long-term effect of the price increase is on consumer behavior.”

The next time you’re delivering a presentation think about the process you went through when preparing it. Doing so will create context and make understanding much easier for your listeners.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication

Practicing Is NOT the Way to Go

February 10, 2011 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Myths Debunked

For the past few weeks I’ve been doing a lot of writing. The winter months are always a good time for that. My writing project is a book for business presenters. It began as a simple update and expansion of the Reference Guide (the booklet we give participants in our presentation workshops), but the scope of it expanded to the point where I’m now writing for a broader audience.

Along with the writing, I’ve also been reading a lot of books about presenting—many of the newly-published ones, some of the old ones that have been sitting on the shelf unread for a while, and even some academic textbooks. I’m doing this, in part, to make sure I’m up to date with what people in the field are saying, but also to get a sense of how writers describe the presentation process. What are their guiding principles? What assumptions do they make about presenting itself? How are they similar to and different than mine?

MYTH: Presentations are Performances

One of the most common assumptions I’ve found has to do with the notion of performance. While authors may not actually use that word to describe it, it’s clear they assume that a business presentation is a type of performance. How do I know this? One simple word: practice. As in “practice makes perfect” and “practice at least X number of times before delivery.” Many, many authors talk about the presenter’s obligation to practice.

If you’ve been through one of our workshops, you know that I strongly disagree with this. I’m not a big fan of practice—at least not the type of practice these authors are calling for. The assumption they’re making is that practicing will guarantee your success, that it will give you more control over the process.

The problem is, it won’t.

TRUTH: Presenters Engage in a Conversation

The presentation environment is not the place for that type of practiced performance. Presenters need to engage their audiences in a conversation—a conversation with purpose and structure, but a conversation just the same. The act of practicing to be perfect ties this process up in knots.

Presenters need to be prepared. They need to be ready for anything. But practicing isn’t the way to go.

Formal Speeches are a Different Matter

Now, if you’re delivering a formal speech, knock yourself out. Practice as much as you want. Speeches are an entirely different situation. Because they are scripted and often have a very carefully choreographed slide deck, speeches need to be practiced. I think that’s what the books I’ve been reading have failed to point out. They are writing for the CEO and other people who actually deliver the Big Speech.

For the rest of us, though, remember that presentations are not performances. To succeed, they must be genuine, conversational interactions.

Related Articles:

No Performing. Present (video)

Successful Presenting Starts with Understanding Your Default Approach

Find your focus. Be yourself. Only better.

Presentation Myth: I have been told to Practice Practice Practice. What do you think? (video)

What’s the Best Way to Practice for a Presentation? (video)


by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication