Eye Contact and Pausing… Is That All You Got?!

August 31, 2016 in Author, Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Meetings, Myths Debunked, Presentation, The Orderly Conversation, Virtual

Some time back, Dale and I were the guest speakers on a webinar. The topic was about how we’ve redefined business presentations as Orderly Conversations. We were talking about the use of eye contact and pausing in order to get yourself engaged in the conversation.

When we talk about being engaged as a presenter, we’re talking about the state of being in the “here and now” so that you are able to think on your feet and lead what feels like a natural two-way conversation. It’s talking with your audience rather than talking at them.

Engagement requires the intentional use of eye contact and pausingThere are two primary skills that we use in everyday conversation that must be used intentionally during a presentation. They are:

  • Eye contact: The intentional use of eye contact allows you to make a connection with people so that you can read their reactions and respond.
  • Pause: The intentional use of a good pause now and again allows you to gather your thoughts and take control of what you’re saying.

After we made this point in the webinar, I noticed that someone had used the chat function to comment, “Eye contact and Pausing… is that all you got?!”

It just so happens that the comment came from a competitor who was, I assume, baiting us. My in-the-moment reaction was to address the guy’s snarky comment and make an argument for why we focus so heavily on these very basic skills. But I quickly thought better of it. Delivering a virtual presentation via webinar was not the time to squabble with a competitor.

What the guy didn’t comprehend is that we’re not talking about the appearance of eye contact or the dramatic affect that a pause will have on the audience. (Typical run-of-the-mill presentation trainers often teach that, though.) We’re talking about the very opposite: the calming effect it has on the speaker.

When you’re connected with people and in control of what you’re saying, you’re able to be an effective communicator. You’re fully engaged in the conversation. You’re not thinking about how you are performing, you’re thinking about your content, the audience, and whether they’re following along. These are the same things you think about during everyday low-stakes conversations.

Managing Nervousness

If we can agree that the key skills that help you become engaged in the conversation are eye contact and pausing, we can also see that these ordinary skills, when used intentionally, even in extraordinary situations, can help you manage your nervousness.

We always ask workshop participants what nervousness feels like to them. These are some common answers, and they are all the result of the absence of pausing and/or eye contact:

  • In my head
  • Can’t see clearly
  • Out of body experience
  • Not thinking clearly
  • Mind is racing
  • Mind shuts down
  • Noise in my head
  • Can’t catch my breath

If you’re a nervous presenter (and even if you’re not), next time you’re feeling uneasy at the front of the room, remember to look at people. Really see them. Connect. And pause every once in a while. Give your brain a chance to catch up. Think. Breathe.

Over time, these skills will become second nature to you, and you won’t have to be so intentional about their use.

So… Eye contact and pausing… is that all we got? Nope. Not at all, but these essential skills are the foundation for all of the communication training we provide at Turpin Communication.

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

No Acting Please: 3 Key Ways To Be An Effective Presenter Without “Performing”

October 6, 2015 in Barbara Egel, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, Engaging Listeners, FAQs, Managing the Orderly Conversation, Practice Does Not Make Perfect, Presentation, Uncategorized

Any number of books and articles about business presentations focus on skills and outcomes that really belong to the world of theater. Such resources may tell you that you need to be entertaining, invent a presentation persona, or use acting techniques to jazz up your presentation. For example, they may tell you to rehearse when and how you Slide1gesture or move, to pause for emphasis after a particularly pithy statement, or to script your presentation and perfect the line readings.

Frankly, I don’t get it. If you are an engineer, an accountant, an IT person, a marketer, that’s what you chose to do in life. If you had wanted to be an actor, you’d be acting.

[Tweet “Extraneous “acting” techniques pull focus from Effective Presentations. #business #presentation”]

Many of us at Turpin come from theater backgrounds, either as professionals or as serious amateurs. For that reason, we know how hard acting can be, and we certainly know that it’s not for everyone. In fact, distracting yourself with acting exercises takes time, energy, and brain power away from the three things you should really focus on:

  1. Engaging with your audience as your authentic, expert self
  2. Delivering your content clearly with a comfortable level of flexibility
  3. Managing the conversation and questions that are a key aspect of business presentations

Thinking about maintaining an artificial persona or worrying about whether or not you are entertaining distracts from those three key goals. And if you are already a nervous presenter, feeling you need to be “on” in a way that isn’t natural to you will definitely not help with those nerves.

[Tweet “Forget “performing” and engage your audience in conversation. #BusinessPresentationsRedefined”]

And frankly, bad acting is a lot worse than no acting. If you feel you come across as stiff or expressionless when presenting, the key is to free yourself of extraneous concerns and engage your audience in a conversation. Adding the pressure of performance will only add pressure, not ensure success.

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

Self-awareness and Engagement

November 25, 2013 in Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Nervousness, Presentation

greg_owen-boger_hi-res_colorLast week we talked about “Beth,” a nervous presenter. Beth is a smart, articulate professional, but when it came to presenting she struggled and became self-conscious.

The first hurdle we had to jump was to settle her thoughts so that she could be in control. We did that through active pausing.

Beth was amazed at how such a simple thing could give her so much control over her ability to communicate clearly and confidently.

That’s great, but Beth also needs to be able TO DO IT, even when the stakes are high. That will require a new level of self-awareness (not self-consciousness) and engagement than what she’s used to.

“You need to be able to recognize – even when things are swirling out of control – that it’s happening. That level of awareness is critical in order for you to take control back,” I said.

In our workshops we talk a lot about being engaged in the conversation. Even when the stakes are high, we need to be as comfortable and in control as we are in everyday low-stakes situations. We need to be able to shift our focus outward, look around the room, take stock, think, and most importantly, we need to make a connection with the people we’re speaking with.

Rather than thinking, “How am I doing?” we need to think, “How are THEY doing?”

That requires eye contact. Not scanning the room. Not looking over their heads, but real solid make-a-connection eye contact so that you actually SEE them.

We’ve written about it many times, so I won’t go into a lot of detail here. Here’s a good primer on engagement: http://theorderlyconversation.com/wordpress/why-we-do-what-we-do-part-3-of-4/

The bottom line is that in order to be an effective presenter, one who is truly in control and fully aware of what’s going on around them, you need to be self-aware and engaged in the conversation taking place.

Easier said than done, for sure.

Let us know how we can help you.

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

Applying Presentation Skills to a Game of Charades

November 27, 2012 in Author, Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Presentation

greg 200x300Last Thursday I spent Thanksgiving Day with family and friends. After the over-the-top dinner (prepared by my good friend Olive) had been devoured and dishes were done, family and friends retired to the living room to play a game similar to Charades. Hilarity ensued, of course. But I wasn’t doing very well when it came to helping my teammates accumulate points.

Each time I got up in front of the group, I became nervous and self-conscious. At one point I was trying to act out “cannon.” My head was foggy, I couldn’t think and I was getting nowhere. All I could think to do was light a match and cover my ears. No surprise they couldn’t guess correctly. I did very little to help them understand what I was doing.

After that round, I sat there thinking about not being a very good player. What was I doing wrong? I used to be an actor for Pete’s sake! I should be able to nail this.

Then it occurred to me. I had been internally focused. I dove in without a plan and didn’t give my teammates any context. I did not invite them into my world or try to make it easy for them to understand what I was doing. I’m not even sure I looked at them. I certainly don’t remember seeing their faces.

And THIS is exactly what happens to nervous presenters. A-Ha! I needed to follow Turpin’s advice.

So, leading up to my next turn I reminded myself to breathe and think and look my teammates in the eye. My first responsibility was to provide context, then tell the story. I know this stuff. I teach it all the time in our presentation skills workshops.

“Here goes,” I thought as I chose the card containing the word I’d soon have to act out. And the word was … “stripper.” Yup. Stripper. Oh dear.

I took a deep breath and thought about how to provide context. With my plan in place, I looked at my teammates. I put on a seductive grin, and lifted an eye brow. Then I started swaying to the music in my head. Next I unbuttoned a button on my shirt. Then another. I mimed taking it off and swinging it around my head before tossing it into the room.

“Stripper!” Dan yelled.

(Thank you, Dan. I owe you. My next move would not have been pretty.)

So … lesson learned. Think. Breathe. Look people in the eye. Provide context.

And what do you know? Presentation skills CAN apply to situations other than the board room. I’ve been saying this for years. It’s good to know it’s actually true.

My team won, by the way.

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

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