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”

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

A New Way to Look at the Orderly Conversation

June 4, 2014 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Preparation, Presentation, The Orderly Conversation

Greg and I had a meeting with our publisher and book designer yesterday. We’re getting very close to finalizing every image, sidebar, and pull quote (before we began this process, I had no idea what a pull quote was). We also talked about the back cover of the book. Along with the text included there, we’re including this image.

back cover 6-3-14

This image does a good job illustrating one of the core principles of The Orderly Conversation. The work you do in advance, during the planning stage, should bring order to the conversation you anticipate. It’s all about looking forward. Once the presentation begins, though, the plan must serve the conversation that’s actually taking place. That means bringing something created in the past into the present.

The challenge presenters face is balancing the two. Too much attention paid to the plan leads to stilted, scripted delivery. Too much attention on the conversation leads to a loss of order and focus. Successful presenters manage this process by staying fully engaged in the conversation and trusting the plan to keep it on track.

During your next presentation, keep the balance between these two goals in mind.

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

Presentation Skills Training: REDEFINED. (Part 3 of 5)

February 20, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Posts for Buyers, Presentation, Training

Part 1, Part 2, Part 4Part 5

This is the third in a series of five blog posts focusing on the distinction between the academic approach to public speaking and the skill-building approach business presenters need. My goal with this series is to talk about why the application of Public Speaking 101 approaches in the corporate training room fails to meet the needs of business presenters.

This post will focus on what are traditionally called “delivery skills.” These are the physical and vocal skills you use to communicate in every face-to-face interaction. If you approach your presentation as a performance instead of a conversation (as I discussed in my last post), your focus will be on how these skills look and sound to your audience. The success of a performance of a speech involves, for example, establishing eye contact with your audience to appear trustworthy, pausing to emphasize your points, controlling gestures to appear professional, and bringing enthusiasm to your voice.

What’s missing with that approach is consideration of what these skills do for you, the presenter. Let’s look at eye contact and pausing. During our workshops we talk about these skills as engagement skills. When they are used well, they help presenters relax, focus, and bring their listeners into the conversation.

The use of these skills, in other words, is about much more than simply how they make you look and sound. They are essential for the conversation. Through their application you are able to keep your thoughts and focus in the here and now. If you’re only thinking about how these skills appear to others, it takes you out of the moment and turns your focus inward. This weakens your connection to listeners and turns the conversation into a performance.

For most people, after you’re engaged in the conversation, your other delivery skills take care of themselves. Gestures occur naturally and vocal enthusiasm is appropriate and genuine. So rather than thinking of these skills as the polish you apply to performance, think of them as the welcome result of being engaged in the conversation.

In the next post I’ll talk about the need to bring real-life presentations into training.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 4Part 5

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication

Do I Have to Talk about Every Slide?

October 8, 2012 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, FAQs, Presentation, Video

Dale Ludwig, President of Turpin Communication, answers the question, “Do I have to talk about every slide in my deck?”

How Can I Help a Nervous Presenter?

August 20, 2012 in Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Nervousness, Posts for Buyers, Preparation, Presentation

This article was originally published July 23, 2012 by Mondo Learning Solutions.

greg 200x300Managers often come to us and ask how they can help their team members get a handle on the nervousness they experience when presenting. This isn’t surprising, of course, since this type of nervousness is a real issue for a lot of people. We all experience it differently and to varying degrees, but the reality is that being nervous is no fun. And that’s true for speakers as well as for audience members having to suffer through someone else’s nervousness.

Unfortunately there is no quick fix that will work for everyone. Nervousness is triggered by different things. For some, it’s audience size. For others, it’s who’s in the audience. Level of knowledge of the topic often plays a role. Many people have a broken record playing in their heads repeating some well-meaning feedback they received but have taken the wrong way. (“You should be more energetic.” “Smile more, you look mad.” “Don’t turn your back.”) For others the repeating voice is a self-critical one. “You said that wrong.” “That’s not how you rehearsed it.” “Crap, you forgot to mention X.” “They don’t think you’re smart enough.”

Who could be in control with all those thoughts swimming around?

So, when it comes to helping your employees manage their nerves, it has to start with helping them quiet the voices in their heads, gain control of their thoughts, and settle into the conversation. During everyday interactions they aren’t nervous. They’re engaged, and they zig and zag following the natural unrehearsed path of the conversation. A similar organic process should happen in presentations too.

Presentations need to feel like conversations
Understanding that key concept – that presentations should feel like conversations – is the first step toward managing nerves. It takes away the pressure of having to be perfect, having to say something just right. It also turns the focus of the interaction outward, away from self and toward others. When this happens, the presenter sees faces, responds naturally and settles into the conversation.

Of course, the conversation is mostly being led by the presenter, who has (hopefully) spent some time thinking about the goals of the presentation and the organization of it. The course the conversation follows, though, is in direct response to the feedback received from the listeners. If you can help your employees understand that the audience is a necessary part of the conversation—not passive observers of it—they’ll be on the right track.

Fueling the brain
I like to tell workshop participants, “your brain is a good one, but it needs fuel to be smart.” The fuel comes from a pause and a breath. Pausing gives the brain the time and energy it needs to do its job. Again, we do this naturally in everyday conversation.

Expect some resistance
When you bring this up to your staff, you should expect a little resistance. There are three issues they may have. First, they will want to know how long a pause should be. Second, they’ll probably say that they feel foolish when they pause. Finally, they will worry about the audience’s perception of a pause, “They will think I’ve lost my place.”

Each of these questions stems from the false notion that a presentation is a performance. It’s important to remind your employees that the presentations they deliver are not performances, they’re conversations. During a conversation, there are no rules about how long a pause should be. They just need to occur naturally as part of the process. When they do, they won’t feel foolish. During the pause, an engaged presenter will simply use the time to breathe and think about what’s to come. Finally, pauses are seldom awkward for audience members because they, too, are engaged in the conversation. During a pause they’re digesting what was just said and getting ready to hear what’s next.

So, bottom line: How can you help a nervous presenter?

  1. Help them understand that presentations are conversations, not performances. There’s no “right way” to do or say anything.
  2. Remind them that they’re speaking with people not at them. This will focus their attention on the individuals in the audience and remind them to look for – and respond to – audience reactions.
  3. Remind them to pause and breathe.

Managing nervousness isn’t something that can be conquered overnight. It takes time, experience, and a shift in traditional thinking. But it can be done. Your job, as manager, is to gently nudge your team along step by step, reminding them of the concepts outlined here.

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

My boss likes to jump in and take over. It’s embarrassing. What can I do?

May 29, 2012 in Author, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, FAQs, Handling Questions, Preparation, Sarah Stocker

The answer to this question has everything to do with your relationship to your boss. You may not be able to do anything about this behavior.

If you feel that you can, talk about it with the boss before your next presentation. Maybe the boss doesn’t realize what s/he is doing. So maybe, in an attempt to keep your presentation focused and on track, you’ll agree to ask for input when you need it. Or the boss will politely ask if it’s all right with you when s/he feels the need to interrupt.

If your boss isn’t satisfied with these options, perhaps you can meet a few days before your presentation and give him/her an overview of what you’ll be discussing. This will let your boss see where you plan to take the conversation and give him/her the opportunity to provide direction in private. Knowing what you’re going to discuss may make it easier for him/her to let you lead the conversation.

All of these solutions would preserve your position as the person in charge of the presentation without eliminating the boss’ input.

By Sarah Stocker, Trainer and Workshop Coordinator at Turpin Communication

Helping Employees Gain Respect by Improving Their Communication

May 14, 2012 in Author, Delivery, FAQs, Greg Owen-Boger, Posts for Buyers, Preparation

 

greg 200x300As a communication consultant working with presenters, facilitators, and trainers, I have a lot of interesting conversations with business leaders about their employees.

The conversations may go something like this: “Greg, I know John is smart. He has great ideas and is always willing to put himself out there, but in meetings he doesn’t communicate clearly. He’s erratic, talks in circles, and apologizes for having an opinion. I’ve seen this happen a lot, and it’s causing his manager and peers to lose respect for him. How can you help me help him?”

Sometimes the conversations are like this: “When Mary and I talk in my office she’s confident and clear. But when she presents at meetings she falls to pieces. Mary is a high-potential employee, but her inability to speak to a group is holding her back. Can you help her?”

In both situations people have lost the respect of co-workers because of their poor communication skills.

Another scenario:
A few weeks ago I was working with a woman who is the Administrative Assistant to the CEO. “Jan” is roughly 50 years old, very well-dressed, and in charge.

At the beginning of the class, Jan participated fully in the conversation that I was facilitating. From the comfort of her seat she spoke up, listened attentively to the others, and responded clearly and confidently. She displayed a great sense of humor too.

But then things changed.

Later in the class we were doing an exercise in which everyone gets up in front of the room and introduces themselves to the group. Jan was last to volunteer. While this exercise always generates a few butterflies for people, Jan was a mess. She was very nervous and had tied herself into knots. She shifted her weight and looked down at the floor. Her voice was shaky, she became soft-spoken, and it sounded as if she were speed-reading through a script. Her sense of humor was gone. So was her personality.

Afterwards, she described herself as having just had an out-of-body experience.

When I asked her if she remembered seeing anyone’s face, she responded, “No, not at all.”
When I asked her if that was a common experience, she confessed, “Yes.”

Jan had turned her focus inward.

In her attempt to defend herself against the presence (or even the hint) of nervousness, she made the situation worse. Much worse. She forgot that she was speaking to real people, turned her focus inward, and had a complete meltdown. Suddenly she was not the articulate, confident person I met earlier, but someone else entirely.

Jan’s experience is not unique.

If you’ve ever experienced anything like that (and who hasn’t) you know it’s real. And it’s debilitating.

The good news is that debilitating nervousness is not a permanent condition. In the brief time we had together, Jan learned to speak as clearly and confidently to the group as she normally does in low-stakes conversations.

The key is to think of presentations as conversations that are taking place with real people in real time.

When Jan was nervous, she was speaking in a vacuum—unaware of her listeners and focusing solely on what she had planned to say. My solution was for her to turn her focus outward and speak to the individuals in the room. She needed to look people in the eye and actually SEE them. She needed to recognize their reactions and see how they were responding to her. When she did that, she was able to connect and respond.

The level of engagement that Jan achieved—something that happens automatically in everyday, low-stakes conversations—plays a crucial role in presentations. Although the people in the room are the cause of nervousness, presenters should not think of them as passive viewers whose sole responsibility is to judge. Presentations, like everyday conversations, are an exchange of information that can’t ever be perfect. When presenters focus on engaging their listeners, they’re able to break through the barrier of nervousness, turn their focus outward, and manage the process. This, in turn, makes them feel (and look) comfortable, confident, and in control.

Jan did that, and her improvement was astonishing. She became a person who would be respected in any presentation situation.

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

It’s so difficult to keep everyone focused on conference calls and web meetings. Any pointers?

February 13, 2012 in Author, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, FAQs, Preparation, Sarah Stocker, Virtual

I agree. Keeping people focused on a conference call is a challenge. Here are a few ideas to make it easier.

First, make sure everyone is aware of the ground rules. Do you want to be interrupted? Do you want everyone’s phone on mute? Do you want everyone to introduce themselves? Letting them know what you expect, and that their involvement is welcome gives them some ownership over the content, which makes them more likely to stay focused. This recommendation is, of course, not going to be appropriate for ALL things, but it’s something you should consider.

Second, create an agenda for your call and share it with everyone. Creating an agenda will help you think through what you want to talk about and create a clear message. The clearer your message, the easier it is for your listeners to stay focused. Plus, an agenda provides your listeners with a framework for the call, much like the introduction to a presentation. In fact, you can use our 4 part introduction strategy for conference calls and web meetings as well as presentations.

Third, once you get into the content of the meeting, spend extra time making sure that everyone is looking at the right thing. If it’s a web meeting, make sure you set up each of your slides carefully. (Assume that attention has wandered and that people won’t realize that a new slide has come up.) If participants are advancing through your deck or handout on their own, be sure to tell them when to move forward and what slide you’re on. If their minds have wandered, hearing something like, “moving on to slide 4” will get their attention and give them the opportunity to tune back in.

Finally, do all that you can to keep your energy up. Make sure you are speaking loud enough for everyone to hear you easily; they can’t stay focused if they can’t hear you. If you can, stand up and deliver the presentation speaking and gesturing as you would to a live audience. That may give you the boost in enthusiasm you need to keep everyone with you.

by Sarah Stocker, Trainer and Workshop Coordinator at Turpin Communication

Applying what you Learned in Presentation Skills Class

September 29, 2010 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, FAQs, Preparation

This question was submitted by Nick through our Ask an Expert forum, which all workshop participants have access to after attending one of our workshops.  Since it brings up a common concern, I’ll answer it here on the blog for others to see.

QUESTION:
I recently delivered a presentation and found that I forgot to use many of the lessons I learned in the workshop.  I found myself relying too heavily on my slides and not having a conversation with the audience. This was a bit disappointing because I thought I was making progress since the workshop.  Any suggestions on practicing or creating slides that forces me to be more of the Improviser and not the Writer?

ANSWER:
First, I want to say that it’s really a good thing that you’re more self aware during your presentations.  That’s an important first step.  Of course when we gain self awareness we also gain the knowledge that we don’t always do what we planned to do.  But try not to be disappointed.  You’re on the right track.

That said, let’s take a look at your presentation issues.  Like most people with the Writer Default, you’re struggling with the transition from preparation to delivery.  So, be sure to prepare your slides with delivery in mind.  Create meaningful slide titles that, when read during delivery, will launch the conversation you want to have.  Keep your slides simple and to the point.  That means editing them mercilessly.

Next, don’t practice to come up with the single, perfect explanation.  It will mess you up during delivery.  Instead try to get comfortable explaining your slides in a variety of ways, imagining a variety of listeners.  That will improve flexibility.

When you deliver your slides, give your audience an overview of each, then go into the details.  If the slide has a list of bullet points, read through them.  If the slide has an image or data, tell your listeners what they’re looking at.  This will focus their attention on the screen when the slide first appears.  After the overview, it’s your responsibility to turn back to your audience and continue the conversation.  It’s sort of like show-and-tell because you’re showing people the slide, then talking about what it means.

As you continue to deliver presentations, don’t worry about everything at once.  You’ll overwhelm yourself.  Tackle one issue at a time.  For example, go into your next presentation with the goal of using your slide titles better.  Or remembering to move toward your listeners after you’ve delivered the overview of each slide.  Stay focused on changing one behavior at a time.  Long-term improvement will follow.

To help with that, take advantage of the feedback you received post-workshop through eCoach.  Both the follow-up letter and the video comments available there will help you stay focused.  Our goal with eCoach is to help you prioritize.  Review you follow-up letter before your next presentation.  And be sure to take a look at the video exercises from the second day of class.  That’s when we were working on slide delivery.  Watching them again will remind you of what it felt like to successfully manage your Default Approach.

Thanks for your question.  Let me know how you’re doing.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication