Eye Contact and Pausing… Is That All You Got?!

August 31, 2016 in Author, Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Meetings, Myths Debunked, Presentation, The Orderly Conversation, Virtual

Some time back, Dale and I were the guest speakers on a webinar. The topic was about how we’ve redefined business presentations as Orderly Conversations. We were talking about the use of eye contact and pausing in order to get yourself engaged in the conversation.

When we talk about being engaged as a presenter, we’re talking about the state of being in the “here and now” so that you are able to think on your feet and lead what feels like a natural two-way conversation. It’s talking with your audience rather than talking at them.

Engagement requires the intentional use of eye contact and pausingThere are two primary skills that we use in everyday conversation that must be used intentionally during a presentation. They are:

  • Eye contact: The intentional use of eye contact allows you to make a connection with people so that you can read their reactions and respond.
  • Pause: The intentional use of a good pause now and again allows you to gather your thoughts and take control of what you’re saying.

After we made this point in the webinar, I noticed that someone had used the chat function to comment, “Eye contact and Pausing… is that all you got?!”

It just so happens that the comment came from a competitor who was, I assume, baiting us. My in-the-moment reaction was to address the guy’s snarky comment and make an argument for why we focus so heavily on these very basic skills. But I quickly thought better of it. Delivering a virtual presentation via webinar was not the time to squabble with a competitor.

What the guy didn’t comprehend is that we’re not talking about the appearance of eye contact or the dramatic affect that a pause will have on the audience. (Typical run-of-the-mill presentation trainers often teach that, though.) We’re talking about the very opposite: the calming effect it has on the speaker.

When you’re connected with people and in control of what you’re saying, you’re able to be an effective communicator. You’re fully engaged in the conversation. You’re not thinking about how you are performing, you’re thinking about your content, the audience, and whether they’re following along. These are the same things you think about during everyday low-stakes conversations.

Managing Nervousness

If we can agree that the key skills that help you become engaged in the conversation are eye contact and pausing, we can also see that these ordinary skills, when used intentionally, even in extraordinary situations, can help you manage your nervousness.

We always ask workshop participants what nervousness feels like to them. These are some common answers, and they are all the result of the absence of pausing and/or eye contact:

  • In my head
  • Can’t see clearly
  • Out of body experience
  • Not thinking clearly
  • Mind is racing
  • Mind shuts down
  • Noise in my head
  • Can’t catch my breath

If you’re a nervous presenter (and even if you’re not), next time you’re feeling uneasy at the front of the room, remember to look at people. Really see them. Connect. And pause every once in a while. Give your brain a chance to catch up. Think. Breathe.

Over time, these skills will become second nature to you, and you won’t have to be so intentional about their use.

So… Eye contact and pausing… is that all we got? Nope. Not at all, but these essential skills are the foundation for all of the communication training we provide at Turpin Communication.

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

Successful Presenters Engage People in a Conversation

June 6, 2016 in Author, Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Infographics, Nervousness, Posts for Buyers, Presentation, The Orderly Conversation

engagement infographic draft aAs a presenter, when you are engaged in the conversation, you are connected to your thoughts and externally focused on the people you are speaking with.

If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you know that some presenters are NOT engaged in the process. Not only are their presentations hard to listen to, they also make it difficult to get business done.

Disengagement results in a lot of things. Increased nervousness, a fast speaking pace, loss of personality, and extreme self-consciousness are all common. Regardless of how it’s manifested, as a member of their audience, you can sense a presenter’s discomfort. And that pulls you out of the conversation that should be taking place and slows business down.

So what, then, does it mean to be engaged and how do you achieve it?

Let’s start by altering the opening sentence of the infographic. As a DINNER COMPANION, when you are engaged in the conversation, you are connected to your thoughts and externally focused on the FRIENDS you are speaking with.

As I’m sure you’ve experienced, it’s easy to be engaged at dinner with friends. You enjoy the people you’re speaking with, the conversation is lively, and you have no problem leading portions of the conversation, telling stories, listening, contributing, answering questions, and clarifying.

As the infographic shows, when we’re engaged, we’re externally focused on the people we’re speaking with. We’re able to think on our feet and take control of the conversation. When we’re really clicked in, our self-awareness improves and we’re able to manage the twists and turns of the conversation.

Two Primary Skills: Pausing and Eye Contact

There are two primary skills we use every day, and we’re so used to them that we don’t even think about them. In everyday conversation, we naturally pause to gather our thoughts, and our breathing is entirely involuntary. Eye contact comes naturally as well. We’re constantly checking in with the people we’re speaking with; we look for their reactions and respond accordingly. This lively give and take is a necessary element to communicating effectively, and we’re able to do it because of these two very basic skills.

Pausing and eye contact must also be used during presentations. But because the stakes are higher and there’s work to be accomplished, they are often inadvertently ignored. This is why it’s important to be intentional about their use. For many, this is easier said than done. But for a disengaged presenter, it’s only through the intentional use of pausing and eye contact that you’ll be able to settle into the conversation and get business done.

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

Science Says Eye Contact is Crucial

February 1, 2016 in Barbara Egel, Delivery, Facilitation, Meetings, Myths Debunked, Presentation

barbara_egel_132_BWThe January/February issue of Scientific American MIND (may require a subscription) has a whole spread (pp 8-9) on eye contact: how long is effective, how it affects us physiologically, and how it works in conversation. I’m happy to report that the science backs up what we at Turpin Communication have been teaching for years in our presentation skills workshops. Scientist Alan Johnson notes, “Gaze conveys that you are an object of interest, and interest is linked to intention.” Can you see how this kind of interest draws your audience into participating in your presentation? And can you see why tips like, “look at the tops of their heads,” is not nearly as effective? [Tweet “”I’m happy to report that the science backs up what we have been teaching.” #eyecontact”]

Engagement with your audience is the key factor in ensuring that they trust you, that they pay attention, and that you pick up signals when they are confused, questioning, or enthusiastic. Tom Foulsham, another of the scientists cited, talks about “this kind of dance people do” as they exchange eye contact in conversations. I would extend that metaphor to say that if you are the presenter, you are the lead dancer, and the more deftly you manage the conversation through eye contact, the more your audience will follow your lead. [Tweet “”Engagement with your audience is the key factor in ensuring that they trust you.” #presentations”]

Check out what Dale Ludwig, Turpin’s President and Founder, and the Minnesota State Senate have to say about eye contact.

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

4 Reasons to Break Annoying Presentation Habits BEFORE You Present

August 19, 2015 in Barbara Egel, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, FAQs, Preparation, Presentation, The Orderly Conversation

Often, our learners walk into Turpin workshops expecting to focus on the little habits that are hard to break: saying “um,” “uh,” “like,” or “you know” too much; using uptalk (that habit that makes every statement sound like a question); fidgeting/not standing still; keeping hands in pockets; making a particular face or gesture. Our response is to say that when you are truly engaged and practicing both good, meaningful eye contact and thoughtful pausing, those habits tend to fall away. And most importantly, when you are presenting in a real work situation, we want you focused on engagement and explaining and discussing your content, not being distracted by concerns about goofy little habits.

However, if you’re someone in whom the habits are clearly really ingrained or you want to work on your particular habit just to make sure it goes away, I advise that you work on it in your real-life, low-stakes conversations. This has several benefits:

[Tweet “Work on little, annoying habits in your real-life, low-stakes conversations.”]

  1. If you truly do work on your habits in normal conversations at work and at home, by the time your next VersB Chalkboardpresentation rolls around, the problem will be gone or at least seriously diminished.
  2. It will keep you from fixating on negative observations about yourself during your presentation, which is a guaranteed way to disengage from your audience and end up spinning inside your own head. That spinning kills your effectiveness much more certainly than any amount of uptalk or “like” ever could.
  3. Working on these things when talking with your friends or discussing work with colleagues informally is a safe way to improve your presentations when the stakes are low.
  4. You will be perceived by everyone you encounter as more adult, more authoritative, and more credible once your speech and stance have been permanently rid of these habits. A side benefit is that it works wonders with the cable guy, your significant other’s parents, and snooty restaurant hosts.

[Tweet “You will be perceived as more adult, more authoritative, and more credible.”]

In short, if there’s a presentation habit that’s driving you nuts, bring it out of the presentation space to work on in your day-to-day life so that by the time you’re in front of an audience, you, like, um, totally trust yourself to be on top of those habits, right?

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

The Minnesota State Senate Has Something to Say About Eye Contact

May 12, 2015 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery

dale_ludwig_300As you probably know, we believe that eye contact is one of the most powerful tools a business presenter has. During an interactive presentation—or even during a meeting—eye contact with the others in the room helps you engage, gives you control over the process, and brings everyone into the conversation. When you’re responding to a question or comment from someone in the room, we also recommend that you direct your eye contact to everyone. This technique helps you maintain control and keep the needs of the group in mind. [Tweet “We believe eye contact is one of the most powerful tools a business presenter has.”]

Because eye contact is such a key skill, I was fascinated by an NPR story the other day. It seems that the Minnesota State Senate forbids members from looking at their peers during debate. They must, instead, direct all of their remarks to the Senate President, the person at the front of the room.

What’s behind this rule? These Minnesotans understand the power of eye contact. [Tweet “These Minnesotans understand the power of eye contact.”]

It all has to do with keeping things orderly. Without receiving eye contact from the speaker, senators are encouraged to focus on the content of what is being discussed. The goal is to eliminate the nasty attacks and rancorous behavior that can occur when things get too personal. (If you’ve ever seen British Parliament members hurl insults at each other from across the room, you know how personal these debates can be when people are facing each other.) By following the eye contact rule, senators have an easier time staying focused on the message, not the person delivering it.

I don’t recommend following the Senate’s rule during your presentations. But understanding how far senators are willing to go to keep their debates on track is a testament to how powerful a tool solid eye contact can be.

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

Success ≠ Perfection

November 19, 2014 in Author, Barbara Egel, Delivery, Preparation, Presentation, The Orderly Conversation, Uncategorized

barbara_egel_132_BW“I want my presentation to be perfect.” This is something we hear from our course participants now and then, and I reckon more people think it than actually say it. Most of the time, when people talk about a “perfect” presentation, they seem to mean that their presentation goes exactly the way they envision it in their heads before they do it. Usually this includes being letter prefect, absolutely fluid and fluent, starting as planned and getting all the way to the end without interruption, and fielding a few softball questions at during Q & A while everyone looks on admiringly.

Effective Works Better Than Perfect

This is not a bad vision to have, it’s just kind of boring and it can sell you short as a presenter. Instead of thinking about “perfect” presentations, consider what goes into a successful, effective presentation. To me, that would look more like this: [Tweet “Instead of “perfect,” aim for a successful #presentation.”]

  • You have a solid grasp of your subject matter.
  • You know your audience’s pain points and key concerns, and you have crafted your presentation to address them with appropriate audience-facing organization and language.
  • You have an introduction that will make clear your plans for the presentation and what the audience will get from it.
  • You know how to engage the audience using eye contact and remembering to pause for their sake and your own.
  • You are flexible and engaged enough that if a question or comment changes your direction, you can flow with it and return to your planned content when you’re done.
  • You will field questions with respect for everyone including yourself—allowing yourself time to think before you speak.
  • You look forward to the hard, “curve-ball” questions because you welcome the challenge and the chance to prove yourself.
  • People walk out knowing what they need to do next and feeling empowered to get started.

Set a Bigger Goal Than Perfect

A successful presentation is one in which the needed information is imparted and the important conversation takes place to the satisfaction of all involved. This is, if you think about it, a much bigger goal than the “perfect” presentation I described in the first paragraph. There is a sweet spot between preparation and the ability to roll with whatever comes during your Orderly Conversation. Managing that leads to successful—not overprepared, inflexible, boringly perfect—presentations. [Tweet “Find the sweet spot between preparation and rolling with it. #presentation”] [Tweet “Perfect = boring and inflexible: #business #presentation”]

By Barbara Egel, Presentation Coach at Turpin Communication and editor of “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”

What Business Presenters Can Learn and Laugh About at the Emmys

August 26, 2014 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery

One of the funniest moments of the 2014 Emmy Award show last night had to do with the power and challenges of eye contact. It happened midway through the show when Gail Mancuso won the best directing Emmy for a comedy series, Modern Family. If you missed the show, here’s the clip of her award.

You’ll see two of the actors from Modern Family (Ty Burrell and Jesse Tyler Ferguson) talking about Mancuso’s direction. When she directs, they say, Mancuso emphasizes the need for actors to be in the moment, to listen to each other, to be fully present in the scene, to establish strong eye contact. It’s funny because as they talk about listening and eye contact, they speak over each other and don’t pay any attention to what the other is saying.

That bit was funny enough, but as it turns out it’s just a setup for what’s to come. When Mancuso takes the stage to accept the award she says that it would be too difficult to look at her colleagues as she speaks, so she directs her eye contact to Matthew McConaughey instead. Here’s some of what she said.

I feel like I’m gonna lose it. I feel like I wanna look at my cast, and I love them so much. If you don’t mind, Matthew McConaughey, I’m just going to make eye contact with you right now. So Matthew, I’m gonna talk about how great my producers are over there….I can’t look at them because I’ll cry.

I’d like to answer two questions about how this part of Mancuso’s acceptance speech applies to the world of business presentations. Why is this funny, and why is this true?

Why is this funny? Because it goofs on the find-a-friendly-face-and-speak-to-that-person idea often applied by nervous business presenters. Mancuso takes this to the extreme to excellent effect, of course, and it doesn’t hurt that McConaughey’s good looks had already been the subject of the conversation earlier in the show. While you might want to begin by looking at a friendly face, it gets silly if that person is the only one you talk to.

Why is this true? Because when you’re under stress, it can be very difficult to look at the people you know best. Eye contact is a powerful thing. And if your goal is to hold strong emotions back, to get through the speech without losing it, you might very well want to avoid people who will bring tears to your eyes. Engage other people in the audience and use your connection to them to say what you want to say.[Tweet “Eye contact is a powerful thing.”]

By directing her eye contact to McConaughey, Mancuso not only kept her cool, but she also delivered one of the funniest acceptance speeches of the night.

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

Self-awareness and Engagement

November 25, 2013 in Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Nervousness, Presentation

greg_owen-boger_hi-res_colorLast week we talked about “Beth,” a nervous presenter. Beth is a smart, articulate professional, but when it came to presenting she struggled and became self-conscious.

The first hurdle we had to jump was to settle her thoughts so that she could be in control. We did that through active pausing.

Beth was amazed at how such a simple thing could give her so much control over her ability to communicate clearly and confidently.

That’s great, but Beth also needs to be able TO DO IT, even when the stakes are high. That will require a new level of self-awareness (not self-consciousness) and engagement than what she’s used to.

“You need to be able to recognize – even when things are swirling out of control – that it’s happening. That level of awareness is critical in order for you to take control back,” I said.

In our workshops we talk a lot about being engaged in the conversation. Even when the stakes are high, we need to be as comfortable and in control as we are in everyday low-stakes situations. We need to be able to shift our focus outward, look around the room, take stock, think, and most importantly, we need to make a connection with the people we’re speaking with.

Rather than thinking, “How am I doing?” we need to think, “How are THEY doing?”

That requires eye contact. Not scanning the room. Not looking over their heads, but real solid make-a-connection eye contact so that you actually SEE them.

We’ve written about it many times, so I won’t go into a lot of detail here. Here’s a good primer on engagement: http://theorderlyconversation.com/wordpress/why-we-do-what-we-do-part-3-of-4/

The bottom line is that in order to be an effective presenter, one who is truly in control and fully aware of what’s going on around them, you need to be self-aware and engaged in the conversation taking place.

Easier said than done, for sure.

Let us know how we can help you.

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

My Mother’s Attic Part 2: When the Rules Take Over

July 9, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Myths Debunked, Presentation, Talent Development

Part 1, Part 3

As I mentioned in the first article on this topic, I stumbled upon an old elocution textbook among a pile of books that were about to be hauled away from my mother’s house. It was published in 1895, at the tail end of elocutionary movement’s popularity. While the movement began as a way to improve the delivery of lawyers and religious leaders, at this point it had evolved to focus on the performance of literary passages in schools.

My mother hated the classes she took in school because they required a very specific type of delivery, one based on following strict and, from her perspective and from ours, pretty silly rules. For example, there are rules for how shoulders should be used to express extreme joy or hate. Rules about communicating anger by clenching your fists. Elbows turned out indicates self-assertion. Here’s a passage describing how a performer should stand when “no particular emotion is expressed,” a sort of neutral position, I guess.

Stand with one foot a little in advance of the other with the weight of the body resting on the advanced foot, the left arm hanging easily at the side, and the right hand extended toward the audience, the first finger straight, and the others slightly curved, with the palm slightly exposed. (from The Ideal Orator and Manual of Elocution, John Wesley Hanson, Jr. and Lillian Woodward Gunckel, editors, pages 24 and 25)

As odd as all the rules in this book are, there’s something to be learned in the way they came about. The elocutionary movement began in the eighteenth century as a way to capture what was good about effective public speakers. The behaviors of great speakers were observed and these observations were turned into rules for everyone to follow.

The reason the original speakers were great was because there was a close connection between what they said and how they said it. As the rules developed, the natural connection between what and how was lost. All that remained were the rules, the shell of good delivery. That’s how in the early years of the twentieth century there were schoolchildren reciting poetry while worrying about whether their elbows were turned out or in.

The question we need to ask ourselves is how far have we really come from this approach? If we take away the archaic language of The Ideal Orator, and the fact that it focuses on the performance of literature, if we account for how the style of delivery has changed over the past century, aren’t we looking at a process still used in a lot of presentation skills training classrooms today?

How about when participants in our workshops ask us about the rules for gestures, where the “power position” is in the room, whether crossed arms are a bad thing, or how many seconds of eye contact are appropriate?

Aren’t they making the same assumptions made by the elocutionists? Aren’t they separating the what from the how?

In my next article, I’ll focus on the answers to these questions.

Part 1, Part 3

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