Throw Out the Ground Rules: 5 Things Learners Want Us to Know

May 25, 2016 in Dale Ludwig, Talent Development, Training

Have you ever attended a training event at work that began with the trainer delivering a set of ground rules for the class? If the answer is yes, the rules probably sounded like this.

Good morning everyone! Before we get started, let me go over a few ground rules for today’s class. First, and most important, please make an effort to be present and focused. To help with that, please silence your cell phones. There will be time during breaks to check emails and texts. Finally, remember that the best learning happens when there is interaction. Please ask questions whenever you have them.

If you’re a trainer, have you ever delivered rules like these? I know I have. But I stopped a long time ago. One day the truth of what I was doing dawned on me. I realized that I was beginning class with a giant scoop of condescension. I was telling a group of adults, grownups with jobs, what sort of behavior was acceptable and what I expected of them.

The assumption I was communicating was that it is the learners’ responsibility to engage in the process, that it was their responsibility to stay focused, and that they were responsible for lively interaction. That’s not their job at all. It’s mine. I need to engage them, help them stay focused and encourage their participation. It’s my responsibility to make them want to listen and participate.

Not too long ago, I participated as a learner in a workshop. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when the familiar ground rules were laid out by the trainer. The rules were followed by an ice breaker intended to warm us up for learning.

As the other people in the class and I dutifully listened and played along (even though we really didn’t want to), I imagined what it would be like if we were asked to set our own ground rules.

  1. We want this class to be about us. It’s not that we’re selfish people. It’s that this is a work day and we’re busy. So please, stay focused on our needs, our situation, and what this class has to do with our jobs. And please be as efficient as you can be. Our time is valuable.
  2. We will need to be reminded why we’re here. It’s not that we’re forgetful. It’s just that we may not be able to immediately connect what we’re learning with our everyday work. Please make the effort to connect the dots. If the process doesn’t feel easy to us, we’ll give up.
  3. We will be distracted during class. We will be distracted by our own thoughts and the people sitting next to us. We will be distracted because our phones are off and work is piling up. Don’t be upset by this; we’re constantly distracted. So don’t take it personally if you sense that our thoughts are somewhere else. When the distraction is over, we hope that you will make it easy for us to re-engage.
  4. We need to trust you and feel comfortable with you. Not only do we expect you to know what you’re doing in terms of training content, we also expect you to be flexible. We want to feel that you understand our experience and expertise and that you take both into account during this class. We also want to sense there is a genuine, caring person at the front of the room. If you seem scripted, insincere, or ask us to raise our hands in response to a rhetorical question, we’re not comfortable.
  5. We do not want to be put on the spot. When do we feel put on the spot? When you force us to participate in an ice breaker. When you tell us that something is intended to be fun. When you ask us to participate in an exercise that does not feel necessary. And even when it does feel necessary, we still may not want to participate because most of us don’t like exercises.

Have you ever wanted to set your own learner ground rules? If so, what would they be?

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

5 Introverts Walk into a Presentation Skills Workshop …

October 26, 2015 in Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Presentation, Talent Development, Training

blog 10-27-15I was leading a presentation skills workshop a few weeks ago when something happened that has never happened before. It was during the needs assessment discussion. This is when we go around the room and everyone talks about their needs and what they’d like to take away from the class. This was a small group, five in all, and the first person to speak was a woman, who said this:

The problem I have is that when I’m communicating with my team, we’re all just sitting around a table like this, I start thinking about how everyone is looking at me. I HATE being the center of attention. I guess it’s because I’m an introvert.

One of the men in the class said:

Yeah, I know what you mean. I’m an introvert, too.

Then the others in the room joined in saying that they, too, were introverts. As the conversation moved forward, and after telling them that I was an introvert as well, we focused on what this particular trait meant for all of us when it came to business presentations.

Get Out of Your Head

They were highly self-aware, often to a fault. Three of the people in the class were a little obsessive about their physical or vocal characteristics, carrying feedback they had been given years ago into their work. I’ve written about this before here. As it turned out, these characteristics were not an issue at all, just a cause for worry.

Once they had this insight, they were better able to turn their focus outward.

Focus on Individuals One at a Time

They struggled to engage their audience. They were all experienced enough to know that establishing a genuine connection to listeners is a difficult—and very important—thing to do. Their presentations never felt quite right to them, though, the way an informal conversation feels.

They found that by focusing on single individuals in the beginning, bringing audience members into the conversation one by one, they were able to engage the group more effectively.

Grow Your Self-awareness

Finally, everyone benefitted from the objectivity provided by video. As with all of our workshops, these participants were video recorded as part of their training. Each of them was able to see that their internal dialogue, their worry, was getting in the way of their success.

The video gave them the insight they needed to focus on things that really mattered.

As I mentioned above, there were really six introverts in this workshop. The fact that I am an introvert was a surprise to this group, as it usually is to people who know what I do for a living. All it means, I said to them, is that some things take more effort for me than they do for my extroverted colleagues. Something as simple as being the first to speak to workshop participants as they come into a class is one of them. It’s much more natural for me to hold back and stay in the background until class begins. I’ve learned, though, that part of my job is being the host in every workshop, and that my work begins (and it is work for me) before the class actually starts.

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

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

“There’s No Soul in Perfection”

April 3, 2014 in Author, Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Myths Debunked, Video

american-idol-logoI’ll admit it. I watch American Idol. I suppose I have a little bit of … something… in my heart for those kids. I used to be a young performer. I dreamt of stardom too.

Now that I’m older and have worked that dream out of my system, I’m far more interested in the coaching the contestants receive than the performances themselves. Last night’s show, Season 13 – Top 8, was a coaching bonanza.

greg 200x300Harry Connick Jr’s advice to Sam was to make a connection, look at a single person (or the camera) and connect. He’s right about that. And it’s good advice for business presenters too. It’s not enough to say words, no matter how clear or persuasive (or pitch perfect) you are. You need to say them to someone. Make a connection. Make sure you’ve been heard and understood.

Immediately following Harry’s advice, Keith Urban told Sam, “There’s no soul in perfection.” He wants Sam to let loose, get a little dirty, rough it up. The same is true for business presenters.

[Tweet “”There is no soul in perfection” @KeithUrban #deep”]

We’ve posted a lot about the downside to striving for presentation perfection. It puts too much pressure on you and it takes you out of the moment. You can’t be “in” a conversation and reciting what you’ve rehearsed at the same time. It just doesn’t work. A presentation audience wants to feel as if the words are coming out of your mouth for the first time. They want to feel as if they can add to the conversation rather than observe as you talk.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be prepared. You should be. But you also need to react in the moment to what’s happening around you. Let the conversation get a little messy. Rough it up. Make a connection. That’s when the heart and soul of a business presentation shines.

Here are some other posts that talk about perfection, nervousness created by the desire for perfection, and the downside to practicing too much.

Practice Makes Perfect… or not.

Dealing with Presentation Nerves


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

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

Virtual Presentations That Work

December 16, 2013 in Delivery, Presentation, Talent Development, Training, Video, Virtual

Breakthrough to Engage Clients and Staff

Greg Owen-Boger had the pleasure of presenting a webinar for the Training Magazine Network last week.

It was a great session full of lively chat from the engaged group.

Click the image to access the hour-long recording. (Note that you’ll need to register.)

Virtual Presentations that Work

Comments from attendees:

17 minutes in Barb said: “Already worth the price of admission… I like the ‘do it like it’s live’ idea!”

Bart said: “Really a lot of good ideas – great session. Glad I tuned in!”

Mary said: “This webinar… really good.”

Haley said: “Thanks so much, this was so helpful!”

Tracey said: “Nice job! Well explained concepts and good examples.”

Sandy said: “Wonderful information. I learned some great tips. Thanks so much!”

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”

Why We Do What We Do (Part 2 of 4)

April 15, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Facilitation, Posts for Buyers, Preparation, Presentation, Training

A Discussion of Turpin Communication’s Core Principles:
Default Approaches

Part 1, Part 3, Part 4

This is the second in a series of four posts focusing on Turpin’s core principles. In the last entry I focused on the Orderly Conversation, our term for the presentations business people deliver. As I said, the characteristics of a presentation that make it a Conversation always compete with those keeping it Orderly. It’s the presenter’s job to stay on track without sacrificing the spontaneity or immediacy conversations require.

Managing this tension would be a relatively easy thing to do if you were simply having a conversation with a coworker about a project you’re working on. Information would be exchanged, points made, and supporting arguments explained. With a presentation, you’re still having a conversation with your audience, but you have a specific goal you want to achieve, you’re probably using slides or a handout, and you have time to prepare.

Presenters respond to this challenge in one of two fundamental ways. We call these responses Default Approaches. One group, the Writers, default to the orderly side of the process. It’s natural for them to approach presenting as a linear process. Writers rely on preparation, detail, and control for success.

For the other group, Improvisers, the conversation is always front and center—even during the preparation process. These presenters rely on their ability to engage the audience and keep the conversation going.

Both Defaults bring important skills and strengths to the process, of course. They just need to keep things balanced. The conversation needs to breathe without straying too far off course.

Individual presenters must be aware of their Default Approach so they know which side of the process they should focus on. When we work with Writers, our goal is to increase their comfort with the spontaneous, sometimes-messy process of delivery. For Improvisers, improvement is found by making peace with the framework of the presentation and trusting it to make understanding easier.

As I said in the last post, everyone improves along a separate path. Insight into your Default tells us where that path starts.

In the next post, I’ll write about the connection between engaging listeners in the conversation and reduced nervousness.

Part 1, Part 3, Part 4

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

Impatient Learners

October 1, 2012 in Author, Delivery, Facilitation, Greg Owen-Boger, Preparation, Presentation, Training

greg 200x300If you’re a regular reader of our blog, you know that I often find inspiration in the Answers feature on LinkedIn. A while back, this question about impatient learners appeared.

Question: How do you deal with impatient participants during corporate training workshops?

As I think about this question, I’m reminded of an incident with a client several years ago where we were brought in mid-stream to try to rescue a particularly large training initiative.

Back Story
Leadership discovered that their employees lacked a basic understanding of what they actually did as an organization. To fix this, there was to be a big training push to educate everyone in the organization on the core elements of the business. To protect our client, I’ll call this initiative “Our Business 101.”

Each department was to develop a half-day session that would be delivered to the entire organization. They were to roll through the sessions roughly one a month until they had made it through the entire company. No matter your position, how long you’d been there, or what department you worked in, you would attend in person on the same day as everyone else. And, if you worked remotely, you’d dial in.

This was to be repeated annually.

Sounds like a good time, right?

Well, each department begrudgingly put its session together, assigned SMEs to speak and waited for their big day.

After a few months, we got a call from Leadership. The training wasn’t working. People were disengaged, the sessions were boring, and the initiative wasn’t doing what they had set out to do. Further, evaluations were bad. Real bad.

Leadership asked us to observe the next one and identify what they were doing wrong.

What we observed
The speakers demonstrated their expertise, but they were dull and long-winded. There was little connection between what they were saying and what was on their slides. They stood behind a podium and seldom looked up.

As I looked around the room at the learners that day, they seemed like naughty middle schoolers. The employees (who couldn’t find an excuse for not attending) did not participate. They passed notes, played games on their mobile devices, checked email. One even fell asleep. I wish I could say I was making this up.

It didn’t take long for us to understand what was happening. There were several issues that we uncovered. Here are the four biggies.

First, departments did not coordinate their efforts, which caused a lot of redundancy. Not knowing if contract negotiations fell under business development, finance, or legal, each department included it in their session. Brand integrity was discussed in the marketing session as well as legal. You get the idea.

Second, they did not stop to think about how much detail they really needed to go into. They were told to fill up half a day. So they did.

Third, Leadership was relying on SMEs to deliver training without giving them the training or resources they needed to be successful.

And fourth, there was no effort to engage the poor souls who had to dial in from remote locations. In many cases, they couldn’t see the slides or even hear the speakers because of the poor technology set-up in the training room.

The result was worse than not hitting the learning objectives. They gave training a black eye. I found this whole thing frustrating. It didn’t have to be this way. And think of the cost to the company both in money and employee engagement! I wish them luck getting these employees to participate in future training.

So now what?
At the point we were brought in there wasn’t much we could do other than work with each of the upcoming SMEs on the delivery of their presentations, which at that point had been locked down by Legal. That was OK and they did get something out of it, but we could have done more had the client brought us in earlier in the process.

Had they brought us in earlier we would have:

  • Consulted with them to coordinate among departments to avoid redundancy
  • Suggested smaller groups and worked with Leadership to split the employees into groups of similar backgrounds and interest levels
  • Suggested that remote attendees attend a webinar designed specifically for that purpose
  • Explored eLearning options (imagine how much time and energy this might have saved)

For the SMEs we would have:

  • Helped them tailor their session to the interest-level of each audience group
  • Consulted on their instructional design so that it facilitated learning more efficiently and effectively
  • Worked with them on their delivery skills to help them keep sessions relevant and interesting (I have written about this before.)
  • Helped them connect dots from previous sessions so that learners could get a better grasp of the organization as a whole rather than just the silos

So, next time you’re thinking about rolling out training, make sure you do it right. Think strategically. And if you need help, give us a call. We’ll be there to help you through the process; from instructional design consulting, to tailoring to each audience, to working on the training skills of your trainers and SMEs.

And if we can’t help, we’ll help you find someone who can.

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

Use internal agendas to reinforce your presentation’s structure.

September 24, 2012 in Author, Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Preparation, Presentation, Video

Greg Owen-Boger, VP of Turpin Communication, shows how using internal agendas can keep both the presenter and the audience on track.

New Service Demystifies Video Production for eLearning Professionals

June 5, 2012 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Find Your Focus Video, Greg Owen-Boger, News, Training, Video

News Release – PDF

Media Contact:

Greg Owen-Boger, VP

Chicago, IL – June 6, 2012 – Anyone who’s tried to create their own professional video knows how challenging it can be. Greg Owen-Boger, VP of Turpin Communication, knows firsthand how true that is. “In 2007 we started creating video for our online courses, which were originally designed to accompany our live workshops in a blended learning format. We had never done this before, but we knew we needed to keep our budget under control. That meant we needed to produce the video in-house.”

That was the beginning of a multi-year learning process for Greg and his team, which consisted of several people including Dale Ludwig, Turpin’s founder and president. “We had to learn about cameras, lights, sound, scriptwriting, editing and learning management systems. It was a lot to take in when you’re starting from scratch,” says Ludwig. Eventually the team had their studio in place and the equipment and scripts ready to go.

“I was the on-screen guy,” says Ludwig. “The most frustrating part for me was trying to engage the learner through the lens of the camera. It was a pretty humbling experience. I looked and sounded awkward. It was important to us that I not read from a script word for word because we wanted the video to be as conversational as possible. But every time we’d play a clip back, I’d feel defeated.”

Then the thought occurred to them. “We help people gain control and appear confident and comfortable in live presentations and training sessions all the time,” says Owen-Boger. In fact the company has been doing so for 20 years. “We ought to be able to coach people on camera just as we do in live training situations.” They tried using the same techniques that had worked so well in the past, and realized it worked on-camera, too.

And that’s how Find Your Focus Video came about. “We’ve been through the learning process ourselves. Friends have asked us to help them through it. Now we’re making the service available to a wider audience.” One of their first clients, Dana Peters, CEO of Mondo Learning Solutions, says, “… (Turpin) supported the entire process from script development to delivery of the finished product, but what really impressed me was their ability to coach me through the foreign process of talking to a camera … all with amazing patience.”

When asked if this new venture could be called a production company, the answer was a resounding no. As Owen-Boger says, “We’re a communication training company. We’re simply expanding our services to help people communicate more effectively on video.” While they have the know-how for video production, “the differentiating factor is that we provide on-camera coaching on top of the production services. That’s unique. We give people the skills and confidence they need to be their best on video.”

About Turpin Communication
Since 1992, Turpin Communication has been helping business professionals be more comfortable, confident and in control when delivering presentations, facilitating meetings and running training sessions. Training services include live client-site workshops, online asynchronous courses and individual enrollment workshops in Chicago. Now these services have been expanded to help on-camera speakers engage viewers through a camera lens.