A New Definition of Success

June 30, 2014 in Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Nervousness, Presentation, The Orderly Conversation, Training

Why a Performance Approach to Business Presentations Doesn’t Work

greg_owen_boger_300Presentations should not be confused with speeches. Speeches are a type of performance. Presentations are a type of conversation. That’s why we’ve redefined them as “Orderly Conversations.”

Unfortunately, many people, even industry experts, hang on to the idea that a presentation should be “performed,” that it can be perfected by scripting, rehearsing, planning when and how to gesture, and following rules. These rules can be about all kinds of things, like the “right” number of bullets, never looking at your slides, holding your hands a certain way, or pausing for dramatic purposes.

As Dale Ludwig writes in chapter 5 of our new book The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined: “When rules like these are applied without consideration of their effectiveness or appropriateness for an individual, they stop being the means to an end and become the end themselves. This makes presenting more difficult for the presenter and less effective for the audience.”

Three Types of Performers
What we’ve seen is that business presenters who follow a performance approach generally fall into three categories:

  1. The Nervous Perfectionist
  2. The Dutiful Student
  3. The Entertainer

Let’s take a look at the negative consequences of each type of performer and offer up a better way forward.

The Nervous Perfectionist
In the book, we write about Jennifer, a Nervous Perfectionist. She puts an extraordinary amount of time into planning her presentation and rehearses it several times before the big day. Her goal is to perfect her delivery.

Unfortunately, during her last presentation, Jennifer felt like a failure because things didn’t go as she’d planned. Her solution was to rehearse more the next time.

Jennifer’s assumptions look like this:
A New Definition of Success pic 1 6-30-14

Dale writes: “As Jennifer moved through each of these steps, she assumed she was gradually taking control over the process. But it didn’t work. What happened to Jennifer actually looks like this.”
A New Definition of Success pic 2 6-30-14

Dale goes on: “As you can see, Jennifer’s nervousness led her to rehearse, which turned her presentation into a performance. This made her more self-conscious and more nervous. Her decision to rehearse more for the next presentation just repeats the cycle.”

The Dutiful Student, a New Definition of Success and a True Story
Another type of performance-focused presenter is what we call the Dutiful Student. Dutiful Students want rules they can follow. After all, their thinking goes, there must be a better and worse way to do something. Give me rules and I’ll follow them.

Last week in a workshop, we met Sandra (not her real name). She is a Subject Matter Expert and accidental trainer. Several times she asked, “What’s the rule for… “

As proof of her allegiance to the “prepare, prepare, prepare” rule, she pulled out a three ring binder containing her training slide deck. Each slide, complete with script in the speaker notes, was laminated for safekeeping.

We asked her how long it takes her to get ready to actually deliver the training. She said with a sigh, “Weeks and weeks. It’s far too time-consuming, and I have a lot of other responsibilities.” She was clearly frustrated by this.

When we asked her how she felt when learners asked questions, she said she hated it because it pulls her out of her script. “I have to think a lot when I’m up there. If they interrupt me it just throws me off.”

As the discussion went on, Sandra and her classmates agreed that her process is inefficient and didn’t create the conditions for fruitful learning. In Sandra’s attempt to follow rules and perfect the delivery of her training, she lost sight of her goal, which was to teach, to inspire learning.

Create the Conditions for a Fruitful Conversation
We worked with Sandra to help her create the conditions for a fruitful conversation. The first step was to turn her focus away from herself and toward her learners. She needed to get out of her head and actually speak with them.

During the first exercise in class, Sandra’s instruction was to introduce herself to the group and to engage them in a conversation about her job responsibilities. After several attempts, she finally settled into the conversation. She actually saw them and their reactions. She responded to them in the “here and now.” They asked questions, and Sandra answered them with ease.

This exercise was recorded on video. As she and I watched it a little later she said, “I forgot about thinking, and just did it! I just talked with them.” She was amazed that she could actually stand in front of the group and hold a conversation. She wasn’t thinking about her gestures, or even what to say. She was engaged in the here and now of the conversation, and it came naturally to her.

As we continued to talk, she made a connection that will stick with her well into the future. She said, “You know … as I think about it, I do my best teaching at the bar after my sessions. Now that I know why that is, I have a new definition of success!”

The Entertainer
In the book, we also talk about Sophia, an Entertainer. The character of Sophia was inspired by a young man (we’ll call him Calvin) that I worked with years ago. He was in sales and approached his sales presentations as if he were a comedian on a stage.

Calvin had a larger than life personality, a toothy smile, and a presentation style to go with it. I remember he swaggered to the front of the room and asked if we were ready. When we said yes, he snapped into action. It was as if the spotlight had just been turned on.

I remember that Calvin’s boss caught me in the hall that day and invited me into his office for a chat. As it turned out, Calvin’s job was on the line. His buyers weren’t buying, and none of his co-workers wanted to work with him. Calvin was over the top and perceived as phony. Not exactly the type of person most people want to work with or buy from.

So What Does This Mean for You?
Dale writes: “The lure of the performance approach is control; presenters use it because they assume success comes from planning exactly what they are going to say and how they will say it in advance of the presentation. This also means, their thinking goes, that success can be reached fairly easily because all they have to do is remember the plan and follow the rules. The danger is that exercising this level of control over the process pulls your focus away from the here and now of the conversation and leads, for many people, to increased nervousness and heightened self-consciousness.”

The more effective and efficient way to prepare for and deliver your presentations is to think of them as Orderly Conversations. Your role, then, is to prepare for and lead a listener-focused, flexible and responsive conversation. And when you do, it will make all the difference.

by Greg Owen-Boger, VP at Turpin Communication and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Orderly Conversation”

The Orderly Conversation is now available at Amazon.com

Moderating a Panel: 3 Unconventional Best Practices

January 21, 2014 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Facilitation, Meetings, Talent Development

Last week Greg (Turpin’s VP) moderated a panel discussion hosted by the Chicagoland Chapter ASTD (CCASTD).

As I observed, I realized that the discussion was one of the best I’d ever attended. It was good, not only because of the insightful panelists (and they were), but also because of how Greg kept the conversation orderly through the use of some unconventional techniques. Here’s what I mean.

moderating-1-20-14

  1. Direct everyone’s focus. As you can see in the photo, Greg positioned himself in the audience. We were in theatre seating with a center aisle. As you probably have seen in other panel discussions, panelists tend to speak directly to the moderator. Had Greg been up front, the panelists would have had to turn to the side or back to address him. Being out in the audience opened them up to the group. Placing himself in the audience also helped Greg monitor what was going on with the group as a whole.
  2. Make it as conversational and intimate as possible. While there was a raised stage behind them, the panelists were seated at audience level on stools. Having them sit on the same level as the audience, but slightly elevated, made the conversation feel more intimate. Also, the panel took place after dinner. While it took a few minutes to move from the round dinner tables to the theatre seating, the new seating arrangement made it so much easier to listen. No one was forced to twist uncomfortably to face the panelists.
  3. Help us know who’s talking. The panelists’ pictures, name, title and company were projected behind them in the same order they were sitting. This helped the audience remember who everyone was and the angle their answers and comments came from. This was such a simple, practical idea. How many times have you forgotten who individual panelists are after they have been introduced? If you’re like me, every time. Panelists’ bios and pictures were also provided on handouts. I was able to learn more about them, if I wanted, as the discussion went on.

I think the evening’s success was the result of Greg’s taking the time to think about how he could make the panel discussion as easy as possible—from the panelist’s perspective and the audience’s. By breaking the fourth wall of the stage, he was able to bring the discussion to the audience, making all of us feel a part of it.

In the photo left to right:

  • Michelle Reid-Powell, VP of Talent Management and Organizational Effectiveness, The CARA Group
  • Aaron Olson, VP and Global Head of Talent Management, Aon Corporation
  • Greg Owen-Boger, VP, Turpin Communication
  • Panelist blocked by Greg:  Tara Hawkins, Training & Development Graduate Program Coordinator, Roosevelt University
  • Toni Fico, Director, Performance Solutions, U.S. Cellular
  • Brittany Horner, Associate Principal, Caveo Learning
by Dale Ludwig, President & Founder of Turpin Communication and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Orderly Conversation”

No Easy Button

November 15, 2013 in Dale Ludwig, Myths Debunked, Nervousness, Preparation, Presentation, Training

easy-buttonRecently, Greg and I delivered a facilitation skills for trainers workshop to a group of Subject Matter Experts. This group had been called upon to deliver training to less-seasoned employees in the organization.

Although the training content was technical and detailed, it was also highly nuanced. The goal of the training was to help learners not only understand the details, but also help them know how to use them to make complex business decisions.

During our needs assessment discussion at the beginning of the class, one of the SMEs put it this way:

“We’re trying to teach people that there is no Easy Button. They need to learn how to think about this information so they can be confident using it to make decisions.”

As I charted that idea, I thought about how the same thing is true for our workshops. A lot of presenters are looking for the Easy Button. They want simple answers to complex questions. The problem is, many of the simple answers aren’t the right answers. Presenting and facilitating are too complex and improvement too individual for that.

Here are three of the most common questions we’re asked and our think-about-it-this-way responses. If you’ve participated in one our workshops, these probably sound familiar.

“How can I eliminate nervousness?” Instead of thinking of nervousness as something you can eliminate, think of it as something to be worked through. If you’ve participated in one of our workshops, you know that the key is engagement. Presenters need to figure out what they need to do to engage their listeners.

“How much should I rehearse?” First, we have to define what you mean by rehearsal. If you define it as the process of perfecting your presentation before it’s delivered, then you shouldn’t rehearse at all. However, you do need to be prepared, and the best way for you to prepare is affected by your Default. Improvisers prepare differently than Writers.

“Is it okay to have eight words in a single bullet point?” Instead of counting the words in a bullet point, think about how you’re planning to use it. Can it be easily read in relation to the other bullet points in the list? Does the bullet make understanding easier? Can you make it smoother or simpler? The number of words you wind up with is secondary to these more fundamental issues.

In the long run, our training is about simplifying improvement for everyone. It’s just that getting to a simple solution that is also the right solution for you takes thoughtful consideration.

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

Melt the Icebreakers Already

June 18, 2013 in Author, Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Presentation, Talent Development, Training

greg 200x300I have had the pleasure to present a session called “Engaging Learners in the Orderly Conversation” for several ASTD chapters this year. It’s designed for an audience of trainers and those who coach trainers and SMEs.

A common discussion that comes up during this session is around the use of icebreakers and energizers that our industry has become so fond of. (Just google “ASTD icebreakers” and you’ll see what I mean.)

Some people in our industry love them. Some don’t.

During the session I make the case that if we, as Workplace Learning & Performance Professionals, want to be respected, we need to value learners’ time. One way we can do that is to not waste it with silly and irrelevant icebreakers.

There’s one particularly awful icebreaker that I’ve suffered several times at conferences. People are to pair up and spend 10 seconds looking at each other. They are then told to turn away from each other and change 5 things about them. For example, move a ring to another finger, take off a jacket, and so on. Then they are instructed to turn back to each other and discover what has changed about their partner.

The point? Change is hard. And here’s the thing: we’re adults, we know change is hard. So how might we make that point quicker? I’d say something like “I think we can all agree that change is hard.”

I suppose I could agree that we need to lighten the mood once in a while. I could also agree that we need to energize learners from time to time. But, as a learner, if you ask me to do irrelevant and/or embarrassing things such as laughing yoga, sharing my favorite Christmas gift as a kid, tell you something unusual about myself, do jumping jacks while yelling “ha,” or recite a nursery rhyme multiple times using different voices and inflection, I may do what I’ve seen others do in these very common situations:

  • Sit there with my arms crossed
  • Roll my eyes
  • Check my phone
  • Walk out

I might also:

  • Question your judgment
  • Think twice before attending another session with you

So, what are better ways to lighten the mood, energize learners, and earn their respect?

  • Explain why they’re there, what they’ll learn, and how to apply it to their jobs. Do this first thing.
  • Acknowledge their knowledge and expertise. Remember: they are not blank slates.
  • Ask them to hold you accountable for not wasting their time.
  • Send them on a break.
  • Listen fearlessly to their ideas.
  • Connect dots.
  • Respect their differing points of view.
  • End early.

There’s always at least one person in each session who will defend their use of icebreakers by saying that they only choose ones that are relevant to the training content. OK, I’ll go along with that as long as the activity doesn’t waste time or make people feel awkward in front of their peers. Unfortunately, most of the ones I’ve seen don’t meet those criteria.

So, what are your thoughts? Are icebreakers ever OK with you? If so, tell us about them in the comments below.

By Greg Owen-Boger, VP at Turpin Communication and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Orderly Conversation”

Encouraging Discussion

July 23, 2012 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Facilitation, Preparation, Presentation, Training

This is a follow-up to the blog I wrote a few months ago, They Won’t Speak if You Don’t Listen.

In that post, I mentioned that facilitators have two fundamental goals. They need to (1) encourage participation in the conversation and (2) control the discussion once it begins. As I said, facilitators often spend too much energy on the second and not nearly enough on the first. The result is that many discussions take too long to get started or fail to get started at all.

Part of this problem has to do with how the group feels about the process and the facilitator. When they feel that the facilitator has their needs in mind and is genuinely interested in their input, they will be willing to do the work required to participate. When they don’t feel a part of the process, they will hold back, only put in the minimum amount of effort required or shut down completely.

When you’re facilitating a discussion, think about these questions.

  • Are you willing to let the discussion go where it needs to go? If not, maybe a discussion isn’t appropriate at this time.
  • Do you welcome opposing points of view? If not, the discussion will grind to a halt.
  • Do you care about the process, not just the result? Good discussions are not efficient. They are about exploring and understanding a variety of perspectives. While a facilitator can often sense where a discussion is headed, sometimes it’s important to let others discover the way themselves.
  • For trainers, are you using discussion to reach deeper understanding or merely the “right” answer? If it’s the latter, you may be straining your trainees’ patience and good will.

So, the next time you’re leading a discussion and feeling that you might be losing control of the process, stop and think about the possibility that what’s happening might be the exactly what should be happening.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication

They Won’t Speak if You Don’t Listen

April 16, 2012 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Facilitation, Preparation

One of the biggest problems facilitators have is very basic: failure to stay in the moment to listen and respond to what people have to say.

When we work with facilitators in our workshops, we always say that there are two primary goals in every discussion. (1) Facilitators need to encourage the conversation. They need to get people talking about the topic at hand. (2) They need to control the discussion once it begins. They need to be good managers and as efficient as possible.

What often happens is that facilitators spend too much of their energy on the second and not nearly enough on the first. The result is that the people in the group don’t really feel heard. This discourages participation. Individuals won’t exert the effort required to say anything—or anything substantial—if they feel the facilitator isn’t genuinely interested. If you’ve ever lead a discussion that never really got off the ground, this could be the reason.

Good listening requires giving the person you’re listening to your full, un-preoccupied attention. That person needs to feel not only heard, but that what they’re saying has the power to influence the discussion as a whole. If that doesn’t happen, sooner or later, they’ll shut down.

How can you prevent this from happening?

  • Be patient. Don’t interrupt. Look interested. Think about what people say.
  • Probe beneath the surface and be interested in nuance.
  • Don’t listen for simply the “correct” response, the one you expected or hoped to get. This turns the discussion into an exercise that’s all about you.
  • Your plan is not the most important part of the discussion. Be flexible.

Facilitating a discussion is an act of faith. Facilitators need to trust the people in the group and the process of interacting with them. Successful facilitators expect things to get complicated and to go off track. And they also trust themselves to be able to manage the process when that happens.

Read the follow-up to this blog at Encouraging Discussion.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication