3 Smart Strategies for Conducting Meetings People Won’t Hate

February 2, 2015 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Facilitation, Meetings

dale_ludwig_hi-res_colorI listened to a really interesting NPR story last week about workday meetings. It said that, “the average American office worker spends more than nine hours of every week preparing for, or attending, project update meetings.” That’s a lot of time. And the problem, as the story pointed out, is that most of these meetings last too long, they don’t accomplish much, and are run poorly. Much of the blame was placed on a lack of awareness among meeting facilitators.

So, if you run meetings, what are you to do? What should you be more aware of?

First, assume that the people you’re meeting with would rather be somewhere else … and that’s OK.

Don’t take it personally. People are busy, and meetings burn through a lot of time and energy. By making this assumption, you’re reminding yourself that it’s your job to keep things efficient and relevant for everyone. This might change the length of time you schedule the meeting for or the people you choose to invite.

Second, talk about the meeting process … not just the topic.

Talking about what’s going to happen and what is happening during the meeting will make it easier for everyone to engage and participate. Plus, you’ll sound like you know what you’re doing.

  1. Review your agenda when the meeting begins.
  2. State the goal of the meeting and—just as important—what you need from the group to reach that goal.
  3. When the meeting is over, clarify next steps and bring things to a close. Don’t rehash meeting content or bring in new information when everyone is ready to leave.

Third, stay on track or decide not to … either way, make it a choice.

  1. It’s easy to get bogged down in the minutia of meeting content, but, as the person running the meeting, keep things going in the right direction. When the group goes off on a tangent, think about whether the tangent is necessary to reach your goal. If so, let it happen. If not, rein them in. Question your gut reaction to the tangent. It may be leading you in the wrong direction.
  2. If you are the one wandering off track, though, stop it.

Remember, it’s your responsibility to communicate a sense of efficiency and relevance. When you do, you will create the conditions for a fruitful, efficient meeting.

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.”

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

Wearing Two Hats: Facilitating Successful Meetings When You’re the Boss

August 19, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Facilitation

This article was originally published on MondoSpective.

Facilitating a group discussion always brings with it a unique set of challenges. Every group involves different personalities, perspectives, and needs. Facilitators have to work hard to create an environment in which a productive conversation can take place.

When the facilitator is also the boss, the process gets even more complicated. The atmosphere in the room will be affected by who you are. Inevitably, the people reporting to you will feel their response is being evaluated—even if you set up the discussion as a judgment-free brainstorming session. This will affect both how they respond and their willingness to participate.

While you can’t change who you are or your role in the organization, you can facilitate discussions with your team successfully. You just have to remind yourself that your responsibilities as facilitator are different than your responsibilities as manager.

Process vs. Content. The facilitator’s role is all about process. It’s not their job to add to or comment on that content. But it is their job to encourage participation and control the direction of the conversation. That requires two things: demonstrating trust in the individuals in the group and showing respect for their needs.

Demonstrating trust. A successful facilitator creates an environment in which information and ideas can be freely exchanged. That means that the individuals in the group need to feel their questions and comments are welcome. The level of participation from individuals in the audience will vary, of course. But what’s important is not equal participation from everyone, but equal opportunity for participation. So as a facilitator, you need to:

  • Be patient, curious, and unafraid to listen. Don’t waste the good will of the group by not listening, or glossing over nuance.
  • Demonstrate through your actions that all input can be useful. As a leader and manager, it’s often important to assess situations quickly. This is an asset in your daily responsibilities, but it can be a liability when facilitating. During a discussion it’s important to let ideas percolate a little.
  • Level the playing field by allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Remember, you’re the only person in the room who doesn’t feel a little vulnerable already.

Showing respect. The discussion you lead needs to be as efficient as possible. While the group wants to feel that they are free to contribute, they also want the conversation to achieve something. Because you are their manager, individuals might be reluctant to challenge your decisions as facilitator or point out that a topic has run its course. Here are some recommendations.

  • Do your homework. Respect the group’s time and energy by doing the work that’s required beforehand. This involves creating a framework for the conversation that communicates your goal, the problem you’re trying to solve, and what you expect from your reports during the discussion. This framework should be strong enough to keep things on track, but flexible enough to include unexpected turns in the conversation.
  • Remember that the framework exists to make participation easier for everyone. It should serve the conversation, not dominate it.
  • Appreciate the work the group is doing and the risks they’re taking.

Because you are the group’s manager as well as the meeting’s facilitator, there will be times when you’ll want to contribute to the content of the discussion as well. When you do, just acknowledge that you’ve taken your facilitator hat off. Say things like, “I can clear up that question for you, so allow me to speak now as your manager.”  When you’re finished contributing your manager perspective, put your facilitator hat back on.

Remember that the people involved in the discussion are your resource, just as they are when they’re going about their everyday responsibilities. When you’re facilitating, give them a safe, productive environment and the time they need to work through the ideas they’re sharing.

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

The 2 Levels of Defining Presentation Success

June 3, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Facilitation, Presentation, Training

Your success as a business presenter always exists on two levels.

  1. On one level it is determined by whether the stated goal of the presentation is reached. Did the buyer agree to buy, for example. Or, did your team see the need for the new procedure you’re asking them to follow? This type of success is fairly easy to measure.
  2. The other level of success is more difficult. It is a measure of how effectively you managed the process of presenting. Or, as we look at it, did you manage the conversation in an appropriately orderly fashion?

The second level of success often determines the first. I’m sure there are times when a poorly managed presentation achieves the goal it was intended to reach. But when you consider how the process felt to the audience—frustrating, inefficient, a waste of time—such a presentation can hardly be considered a complete success.

Presenting is Part of Your Everyday Work

The thing we need to remember is that presentations are part of everyone’s day-to-day work. So when presenters fail to manage the process well, they’re making it difficult for audience members to do their jobs. When that happens, audience members are stuck. After all, they are captive. They don’t have the option of walking out or flipping to a new channel. So what they often do is silently disengage. They might feel a sudden need to check their email or think about dinner, doing whatever they can to cope with a bad situation.

Most of the time this reaction has little to do with the goal of the presentation (level 1) and everything to do with whether the presenter is managing the conversation effectively (level 2).

For example, if you’re delivering market research to a group of sales people, your audience wants to understand the research, but they also want you to make understanding it easy. That level of success goes beyond the information itself. It involves:

  • Emphasizing context and relevance
  • Providing perspective
  • Leaving out information that isn’t useful to your audience (whether you want to or not)
  • Caring about their understanding and buy in
  • Being responsive to the in-the-moment needs of the audience

Business presentations are a collaborative process. Pulling your slides together and having a specific goal is only the first step, and that step alone will never guarantee success. A successful presentation is one in which the audience and the presenter work together in a fruitful, efficient process.

[Tweet “A successful presentation has audience and presenter working together.”]

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

Calling Things by their Proper Name

May 13, 2013 in Author, Greg Owen-Boger, Presentation, Talent Development

greg 200x300“The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.” Confucius

I’ve heard this quote used in many contexts. I suppose that’s for good reason. What we call things matters.

For example, many types of communication are called “presentations,” and that’s caused a lot of trouble for business people.

A TED talk is very different from an industry conference breakout session, which is very different from a getting-work-done presentation to your team, which is very different from a sales presentation one might give sitting down across a desk to a single person. Unfortunately, each of these has been called a “presentation.”

To muck things up even more, our university system and the Learning & Development industry don’t differentiate. They use speechmaking rules and techniques when training for all types of presentations. As you may have read in The Orderly Conversation Blog before, it takes a very different set of skills to plan for and initiate these different types of communication events.

Add all the bad advice and chest thumping over PowerPoint (see this discussion on the ASTD LinkedIn Group) and we have a real mess on our hands.

So, what to do?

Here are my thoughts: Let’s agree to name the types of communication events we’re talking about. We’ll start by figuring out how formal they are and how much interaction is involved. Then we’ll figure out what skills and techniques are useful for each.

If it’s a one-way communication event without interaction from the audience and a rather high degree of formality, then it’s a speech or a lecture.

TED talks and keynotes fall into this category. While these events, in order to be effective, need to feel conversational, they actually aren’t because there’s no real dialogue taking place. The speaker does not react to the audience in a way that changes the course of the speech.

Learning to master speechmaking requires a certain type of training and rehearsal.

On the other hand, if it’s a two-way communication event with genuine interaction from the audience, it’s a presentation.

Most getting-business-done presentations fall into this category. They are, of course, prepared but because of their reactive nature, they also zig and zag in response to input from the audience.

Because of the conversational nature of these types of presentations they tend to be informal. The role of the presenter in these situations is similar to that of facilitator.

Learning to master these types of presentations requires a different set of skills. Rather than rehearsing to get it just right, presenters prepare to be flexible and responsive to the individuals in the audience.

The Beginning of Wisdom is to Call Things by their Proper Name
We’ve found it useful to take it one step further and define business presentations as Orderly Conversations. Orderly because they need to be carefully thought through and prepared. Conversations because they only succeed when a genuine dialogue takes place between speaker and audience. Once presenters are comfortable with both sides of the Orderly Conversation concept, their ability to manage the process is assured.

Dale Ludwig, Turpin’s founder, and I are in the process of finalizing our new book entitled “The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined.”

Our goal is to clear up the confusion so business presenters everywhere will gain a better understanding of what it takes to be an effective communicator.

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

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

May 6, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Facilitation, Posts for Buyers, Presentation, Training

A Discussion of Turpin Communication’s Core Principles:
The Presenter’s Role as Facilitator

Part 1Part 2, Part 3

Dale Ludwig, President & Founder of Turpin CommunicationThis is the fourth and final post focusing on Turpin’s core principles. In the first three I defined the Orderly Conversation, Default Approaches and what it means to be engaged in a genuine conversation. In this post I’ll talk about how delivering a presentation, regardless of its purpose or setting, requires the skills of a facilitator.

When we think of facilitation, most of us think of the discussions that take place in the training room, during problem-solving meetings, or brainstorming sessions. Facilitators in these situations are skilled at moving a group of people toward a specific goal. They help people understand new information, find solutions, and share insights. Their job is to (1) encourage the process to ensure a genuine conversation takes place and (2) control the conversation to keep it appropriately focused on the goal.

This isn’t easy, of course, because the first goal always competes with the second. When the conversation really gets going, the facilitator has to be astute enough to rein it in without stifling it altogether.

Facilitating Your Presentations

The same thing needs to happen during your presentations—even if you’re the person doing most of the talking. Your audience wants to feel they have the opportunity to participate, even if they choose not to take it. They also want to feel that you’re capable of managing the twists and turns of the conversation, even when they are the people pulling you off track.

Many presenters—especially those who are under the stress of nervousness, are new to their role, or feeling intimidated by the audience—are too controlling. Their focus on the orderly part of the process makes them appear uncomfortable, impatient, defensive, or domineering. They don’t trust the audience or the process enough to let the conversation breathe. Audiences sense this, of course, and pull away. Sometimes they simply shut down and wait for the presentation to be over. Sometimes their frustration leads to more open resistance.

The most successful presenters are those who understand that they can’t get the job done without the audience. They trust the group and the process to make a necessary, though not always easily managed, contribution. They know that without it, a genuine conversation never takes place.

So that wraps up my discussion of Turpin’s core principles. The common theme? By redefining business presentations as Orderly Conversations, the real-life challenges you face and the strategies you need to manage them come into sharper focus.

Part 1Part 2Part 3

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

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

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

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

Part 1, Part 3, Part 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 1, Part 3, Part 4

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