“The Patience for Clarity:” Slow Down to be More Effective

April 25, 2016 in Barbara Egel, Delivery, Meetings, Nervousness, Presentation

barbara_egel_132_BWIn a recent workshop, I coached a learner who was a really strong presenter from the start. She was particularly good at articulating how she wanted to be perceived by her listeners and what she needed to work on to improve. Her main issue was speed. She was excited about her topic, which is great, but that excitement caused her speaking pace to rev up to the point where she could be hard to follow.

She described what she needed to achieve as having “the patience for clarity.” That is, she herself needed to be patient and composed enough to slow down and be clear, to rein in her excitement and use it to power a well-paced presentation.

This got me thinking about audience focus and our own insecurities. So often, when delivering introduction slides, people use phrases such as, “Then I will quickly explain the new initiative,” or “I’ll take just a few minutes to describe our findings.” Why is everyone in such a rush? I have a few thoughts for you to consider, some related to managing the Orderly Conversation and some more psychological.

  • People who are more junior seem insecure about the idea that they’ve earned their time in front of that audience, so they want to whip through their presentations as quickly as possible. As our smart learner figured out, this results in the audience getting lost or falling behind in their understanding of the material. This leads to presenters wasting audiences’ time rather than conserving it because they haven’t gotten what they need from it. You have earned your place at the front of the room; keep it by being clear and measured.[Tweet “You have earned your place at the front of the room; keep it by being clear and measured.”]
  • A lot of presenters are afraid of not making it to the end—of not getting through all their material, either because they themselves get distracted or because they know they will get interrupted with lots of questions or discussion.
    • First of all, quite simply, some portion of questions will be about clarifying or re-explaining things you’ve already said, and the faster you speak, the more likely it is that people will need such clarification. Having “the patience for clarity” to begin with just might result in fewer clarifying questions.
    • Creating a solid outline and introduction for your presentation gives you a strong sense of the whole. Thus, if you do start feeling pressed for time, you can still deliver everything you need to, just with less detail.
    • Learn to trust your slides and the level of detail you have built in. If you find yourself padding your presentation with more detail than you need, stop and move on.
    • Learning to manage the give-and-take of discussion will allow you to get through what you and your listeners need without rushing.
  • Nerves can cause some people to speed up. Pausing to breathe is your best friend when this happens. Not only does a good hit of oxygen relax you, but taking a moment to pause will slow down your speech overall. Pausing after each slide or thought also gives your audience an opportunity to take in and process what you just said.
  • Speeding up too much causes some presenters to lose crisp diction, so listeners literally don’t understand what’s being said. Slowing down helps enunciation, which allows listeners to take in all your valuable content.

Of course we sometimes have learners who need to speed up or who seem like low-energy presenters, but more often than not, we have to slow down the speed demons. Remember, you have earned the opportunity to present so make it as easy as possible for your audience to listen and understand by taking your time up there.

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

Book focuses on real (though fictional) business presenters

February 6, 2014 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Presentation, The Orderly Conversation, Training

dale_ludwig_hi-res_colorGreg and I are excited that soon The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined will no longer be a work in progress. It’s in the editor’s hands now. Just a few more months to go.

In this post I want to introduce you to one of the features of the book that really sets it apart from others on the market. One of the first decisions we made was that this book had to be as practical as we could make it. It had to focus on the nuanced application of the skills and techniques we were talking about. Barbara, our editor, calls this going beyond the “what” and the “how” to focus on the “why.”

To do that, we decided to create eight fictional business presenters, representing the wide range of businesses and individuals we work with. Through the course of The Orderly Conversation, readers will observe as these eight people, each from a different company, go through a Turpin two-day presentation skills workshop.

We also decided to keep our two voices separate. I am responsible for the sections focusing on how we’re redefining business presentations. Greg is responsible for talking about how the eight presenters respond to and apply those ideas.

Terry is one of eight presenters you'll follow in "The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined"

Here’s a quick introduction.

  • Terry is the new Director of IT at his company and needs to find ways to be concise, especially when speaking to senior executives.
  • Dorothy is in market research and presents to a wiggly group of internal sales people.
  • Michael sells energy bars and delivers seated presentations to distracted buyers.
  • Jennifer suffers from severe nervousness, and her new role requires monthly presentations.
  • James founded his business 30 years ago and is just now hearing that his presentations are disorganized.
  • Sophia has been training internal groups for years and doesn’t understand why her manager sent her to this class.
  • Luis is a young entrepreneur who needs guidance on his pitch to venture capitalists.
  • Elaine works for a real estate development company and presents sometimes-controversial plans at town hall meetings.

Jennifer is one of eight presenters you'll follow in "The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined"As you can see, they are an interesting and diverse group.

  • If you suffer from nerves during your presentations, you’ll benefit from getting to know Jennifer and Terry.
  • If you’ve participated in a presentation training program that really didn’t help, you’ll appreciate what Luis and Sophia are going through.
  • If you sell across the desk in one-on-one situations, you’ll enjoy observing Michael’s progress.
  • If you’ve ever been surprised to learn that you’re hard to follow, you might sympathize with James.
  • Dorothy and Elaine have to learn to manage cranky or hostile audiences. If you do too, you’ll appreciate their frustration.

Greg will be writing more about all of our presenters in future blog posts.

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

Nervousness VS the Active Pause

November 21, 2013 in Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Nervousness, Presentation

greg_owen-boger_hi-res_colorI was working with an extremely nervous presenter in a recent Mastering Your Presentations workshop. She described her presentation experience like this: “My head races and swirls, and then it switches back on itself. I know that words are coming out of my mouth, but I don’t have any control over them. I must sound like an idiot.”

We hear that sort of thing a lot. This presenter is not alone.

The path forward for this presenter was clear. There would be no improvement if we couldn’t find a way for her to manage her nerves. Notice that I write “manage” and not “eliminate.” There’s little I can do or say to a nervous person that will eliminate their nerves. The root cause of the nervousness and the psychological and physiological responses people have is too deeply ingrained in who they are.

What I can do is help them manage the nervousness so that it can be worked through. Over time, their ability to work through their nervousness will lessen its effect on them.

So, back to our workshop participant. Let’s call her Beth. Beth is a smart, articulate analyst. I noticed before the class started as she bantered with the other attendees that she was funny and charming.

But once she got up in front of the class during the first exercise, she crumbled inside. “I feel so dumb,” she said.

The other class participants came to her rescue. “No, you’re not dumb. Not at all. What you said made perfect sense.”

Beth replied, “But that’s the problem. I don’t know what I said.”

I stepped in. “Beth, your brain is a good one. You wouldn’t be in your current role if you weren’t smart. When you’re in a low-stakes conversation with someone at work, do you feel in control of your thoughts?”

She answered that she did.

“So what we need to figure out is what you can do when you’re under pressure that will help you gain control so that you’re as comfortable as you are in regular low-stakes conversations. We’re going to start with a pausing exercise.”

I instructed that when I raise my hand, she is to pause.

She started talking about a current project she was working on. I raised my hand. She did what many people do, she froze.

“Let’s stop,” I said. I went on to explain that a pause shouldn’t be like hitting the pause button on a DVR. “This is an active pause. You should breathe and think. Gather your thoughts. When you’re ready, you can begin speaking again.”

She tried it, and eventually she settled into the conversation. Her personality started to peek through and her description of the project was clear.

“Were you in control of your thoughts?” I asked.

“Yes. That was amazing,” she said.

Everyone in the class agreed. The transformation, in such a brief period of time, was amazing.

In the battle between nervousness and an active pause, the active pause won.

“Here’s the deal,” I said. You’ve experienced what it’s like to pause, breathe, and gather your thoughts before moving on. Now you need to remember to do it when nervousness sets in and the stakes are high. That will require a new level of self-awareness and engagement.”

Self-awareness and engagement will be the topic for next week’s article.

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

Dealing with Presentation Nerves

September 27, 2011 in Author, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, Engaging Listeners, Facilitation, FAQs, Greg Owen-Boger, Managing the Orderly Conversation, Preparation, Video

Nervousness when speaking in public is an issue for many people. In this video blog I discuss what I believe to be the root cause of most people’s nervousness, which is striving for perfection.

Learn more at www.turpincommunication.com.

by Greg Owen-Boger, VP Turpin Communication

Common Presentation Challenges

October 28, 2010 in Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Myths Debunked, Nervousness, Preparation

Greg Owen-Boger, Vice President of Turpin Communication

In a LinkedIn discussion recently a question came up about the most common challenges facing business presenters.

Many people claimed nervousness, lack of knowledge, unexpected questions, PowerPoint, sentence structure (?) and so on. These are challenges people face, for sure, but these simplistic responses fail to get to the heart of why presenting is so challenging for so many people.

Here’s how I responded:

As a presentation skills trainer/coach, I think one of the most common challenges people face is that they prepare for a speech instead of a presentation. Speeches are scripted, rehearsed and performed. Presentations (which is what most of us deliver day-to-day) need to, of course, be organized well, but they need to be delivered in a flexible, spontaneous, conversational way.

So the challenge I see most is that people know how to prepare for a speech, but they don’t know how to prepare for a presentation. This leads to anxiety, nervousness, analysis paralysis and boring, stiff, unengaging and unsuccessful presentations.

In our work, we help presenters make adjustments to how they think about the process and this makes all the difference.

Faithful readers of this blog know that we consider presentations to be Orderly Conversations. Here are some related articles:

Follow Greg on LinkedIn

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

Find your focus. Be yourself. Only better.

April 15, 2010 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Preparation

A few years ago I wrote this paragraph for the Reference Guide we distribute to all the participants in our Presentation Skills workshops:

One of the first questions we ask before a workshop begins is, “If you had to choose one thing to take away from this class, what would it be?”  When we started asking this question, I was surprised to learn that the answer was almost always the same.  People wanted to be more comfortable.  They wanted the image they project as “presenter” to be the same as the image they project the rest of the time.  They didn’t want to become someone flashy or unusual.  They wanted to be themselves when they were presenting, just without the loss of control and the nagging belief that they weren’t quite succeeding.  They were confident that they would be effective and persuasive once comfort was achieved.

I’m in the process of writing a new version of the Reference Guide now.  I’m excited about it because it will include some new ways of thinking about and improving presentations.  One thing that won’t change, though, is the idea that presenters want to be comfortable, to “be themselves.”  This goal has become so central to our approach that it’s part of our new tag line.  Find your focus.  Be yourself.  Only better.

What this means for training

Life in the presentation skills classroom would be so easy if we could say to participants, “OK, I’d like you to deliver your presentation now, and don’t worry about making it fancy or anything, just be yourself.”  But, it doesn’t work that way.  A lot of things happen to your “self” when you walk to the front of the room to deliver a presentation.  Nervousness gets in the way, affecting the way you look and sound.  Sometimes your mind goes blank or your thoughts start racing ahead .  You may speed up, speak too quietly, freeze in place or forget to look at people.  The pressure you feel also affects what you say.  For example, the drive to be clear and accurate might lead you to say more than you need to.  Or you may go off on a tangent and forget to use your slides.

These reactions, and all the others you may have experienced, are manageable.

First, you need to know what is happening to you.  This isn’t as easy as you might think.  Your everyday self-awareness is often taken over by uncomfortable self-consciousness when you’re presenting.

Second, you need to know what to do to engage your listeners in a genuine, conversation.

If there’s a secret to being yourself at the front of the room it’s engagement.  Here’s how it works.

Find your focus.
Finding your focus means knowing what to do to get engaged. For most people it comes down to two skills: eye contact or pausing (or a combination of the two). These skills work differently for everyone, so our job in the training room is to help people experiment and discover what works best for them.

Be yourself.
Once presenters are engaged, they feel comfortable.  They’re aware of their listeners, but not distracted by them.  Their thoughts settle down, and they can think on their feet.  When this happens, their personalities and natural communication skills emerge.

Only better.
When presenters are comfortable and engaged, they’re able to respond appropriately to the presentation environment.  They’re aware of their position in the room and are free to move about comfortably.  They’re free to focus on their listeners, slides and message.  They know instinctively what they need to say or do to get their ideas across.  Further, they’ve tamed any habits or delivery distractions that may have plagued them in the past.

In short, when presenters focus on engaging their listeners, they feel and look comfortable, project the confidence that’s within them and take control of the unpredictable, spontaneous process of presenting.

They have found their focus.  They are themselves.  Only better.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication

When presenting, I feel more comfortable when I hold a pen. Is that OK?

February 15, 2010 in Author, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, Engaging Listeners, FAQs, Mary Clare Healy, Presentation, Video

QUESTION: When presenting, I feel more comfortable when I hold a pen.  Is that OK?

ANSWER: This is a common question we receive in our Presentation Skills Workshops.  Class participants often remark that holding on to something somehow calms them down and makes them feel less nervous.  In this video blog entry, Mary Clare Healy, provides some advice.

For more video blogs go to Turpin Communication’s YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/TurpinCommunication

Mary Clare Healy, Presentation Skills Trainer at Turpin Communication

Mary Clare Healy, Presentation Skills Trainer at Turpin Communication

Why is it so hard to speak to big groups!?

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

This question came from Manny D.

QUESTION: Why is it so hard to speak to big groups!?
I am terrible at giving presentations. I’m okay when explaining things to a few people, but put me in front of more than 15 people, and I start bumbling and stuttering, and I can’t focus. Why is this, and what can I do? I have a series of presentations to give to groups of 30+ people starting in a month or so, and I’m terrified.

ANSWER: You’re not alone. What we’ve discovered while delivering our Presentation Skills Workshops is that nervousness can be managed. It takes time and practice, and it may never go away completely, but there are techniques and skills you can hone, which will lower your nervous reactions to presenting to groups.

  1. You say you’re okay presenting to small groups. That’s great. So what’s the difference between a group of say 5 and one of 30? If you’re like most people, it’s your perception. A large group is no different than a small group. You just have more people to engage in the process.
  2. Adjust your expectations. It’s common for people to think of presentations as performances that must be perfect. Presentations should be thought of as “Orderly Conversations.” “Orderly” because they are carefully structured. “Conversations” because they need to be spontaneous and interactive right from the start. Thinking in this way can relieve a lot of pressure. You no longer need to be a whiz-bang performer; you simply need to engage people in a thoughtful, two-way conversation, which by its nature is imperfect and unpredictable. And participating in conversations is something you do every day.
  3. Work to engage individuals, one at a time. Do this through solid eye contact. Think of it as connecting with a person for a full thought, then moving on to the next. This will feel more like a series of one-on-one conversations rather than a stress-inducing one-way speech. And because you’re really connecting with people, everyone else in the room will feel engaged too.
  4. You say that when you‘re nervous you can’t focus. This too is common. You need to give yourself time to think. Pausing is key. Pause often and for longer durations than you think is necessary.

We have an online course called Managing Nervousness & Engaging Listeners that you may want to check out. http://www.onlinepresentationskillstraining.com/managing-nervousness-engaging-listeners.php

Hope this helps.

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