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”

Walking Out of a Presentation

June 4, 2012 in Author, Delivery, Facilitation, Greg Owen-Boger, Presentation, Training

greg 200x300I’ll admit it. I’ve walked out of more presentations at conferences than I can count.

Have you ever gone to one of those big industry conferences and been jazzed by the title of a session only to be disappointed because the speaker didn’t meet the expectations they set forth in their session title and description?

Yeah, me, too. Many times.

False advertising makes me mad, and given how many people walk out of these sessions, I have to believe that I’m not alone.

Of course, people walk out of sessions for other reasons, too. I conducted an informal survey of people who walked out at an international conference I recently attended. Here are a few reasons they gave:

  • Speaker did not deliver what was promised
  • Speaker had poor facilitation skills
  • Tired of those silly “turn to your neighbor” techniques
  • Speaker was boring
  • Speaker was too enthusiastic
  • Speaker was condescending
  • Speaker was selling
  • Speaker’s ego got in the way
  • Speaker threw things at the audience (I’m not making this up, I walked out of this one, too)

I can’t figure out why speakers do this to themselves. It’s an honor to speak at a conference. It’s an opportunity to showcase expertise and build thought leadership. But if people leave a session disappointed or frustrated, the opposite has been accomplished.

I also wonder why conference organizers don’t do something about this. Is it that difficult to find effective speakers? Are they aware of the problem? Do they pay attention to how many people walk out?

I used to think that I was alone in my reaction to these things. After all, I’m a presentation and facilitation coach. But I’m not alone. I know this because I’ve begun sitting in the back so I can see people exiting.

So, what are your thoughts? Have you been disappointed by a speaker? Have you walked out? Share your story below.

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

How much detail should be included on PowerPoint slides? Part 2

August 9, 2011 in Author, Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Myths Debunked, Preparation

Part 2 of 2

greg 200x300This is part 2 of an article I posted last week about rethinking how much information you put in your presentation slides. As I said, anyone who champions rules about these things is missing the big picture and leading you astray.

Instead, we need to take a fresh look. I used the GPS metaphor to describe how to rethink your slides so that they help you move your audience from point A to point B.

But as I pointed out, this metaphor only works if you’ve crafted your slides well. Here’s what I meant.

As you prepare:
The first step is to analyze your audience and figure out what they already know about your topic. Think of this as the place you’ll pick them up (Point A). Next select your destination. Where do you want to take them? That’s Point B.

Next figure out your agenda. This will be the route you’ll take. Just like a GPS, you’ll have options. Will you take the freeway, which is a relatively easy trip with just a few turns and requires limited guidance? Or, will you take the street-level route, which will require more detailed guidance?

Whichever option you choose, make sure your trip is logically mapped out and draft your agenda to lead the way.

Once your agenda is crafted, it’s time to work on the body slides. Begin with one body slide per agenda point. Label it using the language you used in the agenda. In other words if your agenda point #1 is “Market Share is Growing,” body slide #1 should be titled the same. As you develop the presentation, you’ll probably need to add more supporting slides, but this is a good start.

So now you’ve got a plan. Your agenda and slide titles mark the milestones for your trip. It’s time to fill in the details. Use words and images that help you stay on track. For example, the GPS doesn’t tell you to “go north.” Instead it recognizes exactly where you are and gives you directions from that point of view: “Turn right.” That’s much more useful when you’re in unfamiliar territory. The content of your slides should be just as easy to follow.

Add just enough detail to support you as you manage the conversation. Remember how Allison Rossett  (from part 1) said that the GPS makes you smarter than you are where and when you need the information? The same is true here. You don’t have to memorize a script or any section of your presentation; you just need to be able to rely on your slides to lead you from point to point.

The best laid plans…
Now, before you present you need to re-familiarize yourself with your plan. If you’re like me, you created your slides a week ago and by the time you have to present you’ve forgotten the logic behind them.

I recommend paging through your slide deck looking only at the slide titles. Do they spark the right thoughts? Does the route you’ve chose still seem logical? If not, fiddle with them until they do. (If you do make changes, make sure you change the agenda to match.)

Next, go through the deck again. This time look at everything on the slides. Again, ask yourself if what’s there is sparking the right thoughts. If not, change them until they do.

Trust the GPS
So now you’re ready to meet up with your audience and drive the conversation from A to B. Trust your slides to lead you. You don’t have to say things perfectly or remember every single data point. Your slides are there to remind you of those things. Remember, they’ll make you smarter than you are, but only if you trust them.

Keep in mind that the presentation is a conversation. This means it might get a little messy. You’re going to say things you didn’t plan, your thoughts will lead you in new directions and you’ll go down unfamiliar streets. Audience members will take you on a detour by asking questions. All of these things are OK and are expected. Think of it as taking the scenic route. When it’s time to get back on track, simply rely on your slides to guide you.

Presenting doesn’t have to be such hard work.
By following these recommendations (instead of following arbitrary rules about numbers of bullets), you won’t have to work so hard when you present. Your slides will keep you on track and help you manage the detours. In other words, they’ll be there when you need them and make you smarter than you are.

by Greg Owen-Boger, Vice President, Turpin Communication

How much detail should be included on PowerPoint slides? Part 1

August 1, 2011 in Author, Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Myths Debunked, Preparation

Part 1 of 2

greg 200x300We get questions like this and others about numbers of bullets, numbers of words per bullet and so on quite often in our presentation skills workshops.

There is no easy answer. And anyone who champions rules about these things is missing the big picture and leading you astray.

If you think of presentations as Orderly Conversations as we do, you’ll recognize that the slides are simply there to:

  • Provide information that listeners need
  • Serve as your notes
  • Provide structure to the conversation
  • Keep you on track

How much information you’ll need on your slides should be dictated by your listeners’ needs and how much guidance you think you’ll need once the presentation begins.

I recently attended a conference where Allison Rossett, a thought leader in the informal learning movement, was talking about using a GPS in her car. She said that GPS devices make us smarter than we are because they provide us with the exact information we need when and where we need it. We don’t need to memorize the exact route from A to B. Instead we can rely on the GPS – a sort of modern-day cheat sheet – to keep us on track and get us to our destination.

Ms. Rossett was applying this metaphor to informal learning, but it can be applied to presenting as well.

Getting from point A to point B
If you think about presenting as moving a conversation from point A to point B, the metaphor makes sense. Let’s layer into the metaphor some high-stress traffic, a few streets you’ve never traveled and a detour. When we do that, the traffic represents the pressure you feel during the presentation. The unfamiliar streets are the unknown elements of the conversation and the questions are the detour.

So in this high-pressure, high-stakes presentation environment, what’s your GPS?

Your slides.

They are there to guide you, remind you of what you want to say, keep you on track, and bring you back after the detours

But, and this is a big but, your slides will only function as a GPS if you craft them the right way. I’ll talk more about how to do that in my next post.

by Greg Owen-Boger, Vice President, Turpin Communication

During Training: It’s not always about the right answer

June 27, 2011 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Facilitation, Training


When we’re working with trainers on their facilitation skills, one of the common issues we see is the trainer’s attempt to get to the “right” answer as quickly as possible. No matter how subtle or complex the question might be, many trainers are frantic to get past A so they can get on to B.

We’re all guilty of this—especially when time is running short and we need to move on. So, when one of our learners responds in a way that meets our immediate need, we simply say, “Thanks, that’s right” and move on.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes this is just what needs to happen. But not all the time.

Trainers should question whether they’re looking for the right answer to meet their needs or their learners’ needs. If the trainer isn’t taking the learners’ needs into account, seeking just the right answer will discourage learners and learning. It will place too much focus on what’s happening now in the training room instead of what will be happening when learners are back on the job. If you make it all about you and the workshop, you’re missing the point.

As trainers, we need to be open to nuance. We need to look for the exceptions to the rule—especially after the rule is understood by the people we’re training. Perhaps most of all, we need to be comfortable letting discussions go into territory that is unknown to us. And, yes, maybe getting to questions that we ourselves can’t answer. Doing so will help learners in these ways:

  • They will feel respected.
  • They will learn how to think on a deeper level about what they’ve learned.
  • They will see that live, interactive training doesn’t only provide information, but deep insight as well.

So the next time you’re facilitating a discussion and you hear someone say just what you want to hear, consider what might be gained if you stick with this topic just a little longer.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication