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

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”

My Mother’s Attic

June 24, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Presentation, Talent Development

Part 2, Part 3

Several years ago, my mother was cleaning out her attic. She was very good at throwing things out, but always hesitated when it came to books. When I visited her during this cleaning phase, she directed me to the latest stack and told me to take what I wanted. Last chance, she would say, before they get tossed or donated.

Most of the books were of no interest to me, Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, for example, that always came to the house when I was growing up. Nestled among them, though, was what has come to be one of my prized possessions—The Ideal Orator and Manual of Elocution, edited by John Wesley Hanson, Jr. and Lillian Woodward Gunckel, published in 1895.

I couldn’t believe what I was holding. First, it looked truly amazing. The front is blue, embossed with the image of a young girl, and highlighted in black, pink, and gold. The back was embossed with the same image but set in deep red. There was a flyer advertising the book stuck in the back pages. It said, “Bound in best silk cloth, 522 pages, including 40 full-page illustrations, marbled edges, emblematic design on back and side in colors, only….$1.75.” Needless to say, they don’t print books like this anymore.

Beyond its appearance, the reason I was so amazed to have found this book was its topic. At the time I had just completed my graduate work, and one of the classes I had taken focused on the history of elocutionary movement. Believe it or not, it was a really fascinating class. This movement developed in England and America during the 18th and 19th centuries. Its goal was to improve the skills of public speakers—initially lawyers and religious leaders, eventually everyone.

The movement was incredibly popular, especially in the US, and eventually led to the teaching of elocution in public schools in the early decades of the 20th century. These classes provided, as the title page of the book says, “Valuable Instruction and Rules for the Cultivation of the Voice and the Use of Gestures.”

“Where did this book come from?” I asked.

“I don’t know where that book came from, but I remember elocution classes in grade school,” my mother said.

“You took elocution in grade school?” Not quite believing the connection between her education and mine.

“Yes, I hated it. We all hated it. It was awful,” she said.

I knew exactly what she meant.

In the next blog I’ll talk about why my mother hated elocution classes and what that has to do with your business presentations.

Part 2, Part 3

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

“I took a public speaking course.”

August 13, 2012 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Myths Debunked, Presentation, Training

I went to the theatre last night to see a performance of “Here Lies Henry,” a play by Daniel MacIvor. Full disclosure: I’m on the board of the company producing the play. But don’t worry, this is not a plug for this production or the company producing it. Rather, this is about something that happens in the first few moments of the play, something that makes me laugh and cringe.

One of Henry’s first lines is, “I took a public speaking course.” He then starts listing what he learned, “One, don’t say ‘um.’ Two, never apologize. Three, don’t say ‘anyway.’” Henry can’t remember the fourth thing he learned, which causes him to flounder, say “um,” apologize for it, and then say “anyway.” The audience laughed as Henry broke every rule and struggled to untie the knots his training left him in.

This was a funny bit in the show, but Henry’s experience is a pretty fair representation of what happens in a lot of public speaking courses. That’s what makes me cringe.

Henry and many other real-life presenters have been taught to focus on the symptoms of their nervousness. This leads to an obsessive concern with the number of ums they might say or the types of gestures or movement they use. The underlying assumption with this approach is that there are some things presenters should always do and other things they should never do.

If you’ve ever participated in one of our workshops, you know that one of our goals is to put an end to this. We encourage people to throw out any rule that gets in the way of the conversation that must take place during a presentation. We ask presenters to focus their energy on the skills that work for them, not the symptoms of their nervousness. Once they’ve done that, the conversation starts and nervousness—along with its symptoms—goes away.

The class Henry took had it backwards—a good reminder to all of us that improving your presentations is all about knowing where to start.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication

I Want To Use A Podium. Is That OK?

April 2, 2012 in Author, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, FAQs, Sarah Stocker

The short answer is yes. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a podium or lectern. In some situations they’re necessary. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Move away from the podium when you need to. Purposeful movement (like going to the screen to point something out or moving closer to your audience to emphasize a key point) helps direct your audience’s focus. It can also bring some energy to your presentation (and help you burn up any nervous energy).

When you’re standing behind the podium, keep your stance balanced. Having a solid stance will help you appear confident and professional.

Don’t grip the sides of the podium because you’ll inhibit your gestures. When you restrict your gestures, you will feel and appear uncomfortable. Your goal should be to gesture as naturally as you do in everyday conversation.

If you have notes on your podium, don’t spend too much time looking down at them; it will disconnect you from your audience. Trust yourself to know your material and focus on making quality eye contact with your audience. If you lose your train of thought, refer to your notes and then reestablish eye contact and continue on.

If the only reason you want to use a podium is because it gives you something to hide behind, don’t use it. Instead focus on engagement. Not only will you feel more comfortable, you’ll also: Find your focus. Be yourself. Only better.

by Sarah Stocker, Trainer and Workshop Coordinator at Turpin Communication

What’s the Presentation Rule for…?

March 15, 2011 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, FAQs, Myths Debunked


During every workshop we’re asked about rules. Some of them we’ve addressed here on The Orderly Conversation Blog:

Other common rule questions focus on:

  • The best place to stand in the room
  • Whether and when to deliver a presentation seated
  • How long eye contact should be

While it would be nice if every aspect of the presentation process could be boiled down to a simple up or down rule, it’s not possible.

So our response, as I’m sure you can guess, is, “It depends.” The right answer always depends on context, the needs of the audience and the presenter’s habits and preferences.

Rules Confuse the Situation
The problem is that there are so many rules floating around they confuse the situation. While they look simple and executable, they often aren’t. So in an attempt to clear things up a bit, what follows is a list of rule categories. See if any of them look familiar.

  1. Some rules are actually goals:
    A lot of the rules people apply to the presentation process aren’t rules at all. They’re goals. “Be enthusiastic” is a goal. As is “be sure to adapt your content to your audience” and “don’t let the Q&A session get away from you.” Everyone shares these goals. Because they don’t focus on specific behaviors, they don’t really help. I could say to the person driving away from your house, “Be safe,” but all I’m really doing is wishing them well. No one would confuse “be safe” with a driving tip.
  2. Some rules don’t apply:
    Many rules prescribe certain behaviors. “Try not to say, ‘you know’ so much,” “don’t fidget,” and “no more than five bullet points per slide” are examples. The problem with these rules is that they may not be relevant for everyone. Making the effort to follow them could make the process more complicated than it needs to be. For example, if the person driving away from my house is my 85-year-old mother, saying, “Don’t go over the speed limit” is completely irrelevant. Unless it’s meant ironically.
  3. Rules that make things worse:
    Some rules come from an attempt to make presenters feel more comfortable, but they don’t work. “If you have trouble looking people in the eye, focus your eye contact on the back wall,” is a classic example of this. So is “use a pointer if you want to look more professional” and “leave your hands at your sides because gestures are distracting.” These rules need to be thrown out. They are built on faulty assumptions and encourage a flawed approach to the process.

This brings me to a fourth category I’ll call Your Rules. Your rules are useful. They describe specific behaviors—things you can do in the moment to be more successful. One of your rules might be to “pause a little longer than you feel is necessary at the beginning of your presentation” because you know that doing so helps you breathe and think. Or “move to the screen to point something out on your slide” because you know that you need to loosen up and gesture more freely. Your rules aren’t for everyone, but they work for you.

Successful presenters understand their individual, personal response to the presentation environment and have developed rules that will work for them. They are the result of an objective perspective, careful assessment and experimentation.

What rules have you tried to follow? Did they work?

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication

Hands on Hips — OK or Not?

November 4, 2010 in Author, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, Engaging Listeners, FAQs, Greg Owen-Boger, Myths Debunked

Greg Owen-Boger, Vice President of Turpin Communication

Discussions on LinkedIn often revolve around public speaking.  This one in particular caught my eye.  It was posted in the Public Speaking Network group and is about whether or not it’s OK to put your hands on your hips.

The gist of the question was this:
Is it wrong for speakers to place their hands on their hips?  I believe it’s a negative gesture and perhaps somewhat condescending.  Any thoughts?

Answers ranged from “yes, it’s the worst thing you can do” to “who cares where you put your hands.”

My response:

As a presentation/facilitation skills trainer & coach, I get questions about gestures all the time.

The answer is not so much what’s “right,” but what’s natural for the speaker.  Manufactured gestures and stances look phony.  Audiences don’t want phony.  They want real.

But how to become comfortable enough so that the real you comes out?

The solution is to engage your listeners in a thoughtful two-way conversation.  Look them in the eyes.  Look for their reactions.  Respond accordingly.   Soon enough you won’t be thinking about the placement of your hands, you’ll be thinking about the conversation.

All that said, there are times when certain gestures can convey the wrong thing.  Hands on hips is one of those, so is hands in pockets.  But you need to start with engagement, which will provide you with awareness so that you’ll know instinctively what’s appropriate and how to adapt to any given situation.

We use this slogan in our workshops and it really resonates with business people.

Find your focus.  Be yourself.  Only better.

What are your thoughts?  Post them below.

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

I’ve been told to hold my hands a certain way when I present. What do you think?

October 6, 2009 in Author, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, Engaging Listeners, FAQs, Greg Owen-Boger, Presentation, Video

We get this question a lot.  Many people have been given questionable advice about what to do with their hands when they deliver presentations.  Here’s Greg Owen-Boger’s video response.

Are Hands in Pockets OK?

May 5, 2009 in Author, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, Engaging Listeners, FAQs, Greg Owen-Boger, Myths Debunked

Question: Is it OK to put my hands in my pockets when I present? I’ve heard it’s a bad thing to do.

Answer: The short answer is yes, it’s OK to put your hands in your pockets.  Just make sure that it doesn’t become a distraction to your listeners.

It’s not so much about hands in pockets as it is about what to do with your hands in general.
In everyday conversation we gesture naturally, rarely thinking about what our hands are doing.  But when we stand up in front of a group of people, things change.  Some people say their hands feel like clumsy, foreign objects.  So, to make things feel more comfortable, they put their hands in their pockets (or clasp them behind their back or in front of them).  If your hands are confined and out of sight they won’t do anything embarrassing, right?  Well maybe, but if you deliver your entire presentation with your hands locked in any position, they will eventually become a distraction to your listeners and an obstacle to you.

So, the thing to do is to treat the discomfort you feel with your hands as a symptom of a larger issue, the fact that you’re a little uncomfortable and nervous.

Go back to your engagement skills.
Look the individuals in your audience in the eye just as you would in everyday conversation.  Pause to give yourself time to breathe and think about what you’re saying.  Before long you’ll be engaged and comfortable.  Once that happens, your hands will do what comes naturally.  Seems too easy, I know.  But give it a try.

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