Successful Presenters Engage People in a Conversation

June 6, 2016 in Author, Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Infographics, Nervousness, Posts for Buyers, Presentation, The Orderly Conversation

engagement infographic draft aAs a presenter, when you are engaged in the conversation, you are connected to your thoughts and externally focused on the people you are speaking with.

If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you know that some presenters are NOT engaged in the process. Not only are their presentations hard to listen to, they also make it difficult to get business done.

Disengagement results in a lot of things. Increased nervousness, a fast speaking pace, loss of personality, and extreme self-consciousness are all common. Regardless of how it’s manifested, as a member of their audience, you can sense a presenter’s discomfort. And that pulls you out of the conversation that should be taking place and slows business down.

So what, then, does it mean to be engaged and how do you achieve it?

Let’s start by altering the opening sentence of the infographic. As a DINNER COMPANION, when you are engaged in the conversation, you are connected to your thoughts and externally focused on the FRIENDS you are speaking with.

As I’m sure you’ve experienced, it’s easy to be engaged at dinner with friends. You enjoy the people you’re speaking with, the conversation is lively, and you have no problem leading portions of the conversation, telling stories, listening, contributing, answering questions, and clarifying.

As the infographic shows, when we’re engaged, we’re externally focused on the people we’re speaking with. We’re able to think on our feet and take control of the conversation. When we’re really clicked in, our self-awareness improves and we’re able to manage the twists and turns of the conversation.

Two Primary Skills: Pausing and Eye Contact

There are two primary skills we use every day, and we’re so used to them that we don’t even think about them. In everyday conversation, we naturally pause to gather our thoughts, and our breathing is entirely involuntary. Eye contact comes naturally as well. We’re constantly checking in with the people we’re speaking with; we look for their reactions and respond accordingly. This lively give and take is a necessary element to communicating effectively, and we’re able to do it because of these two very basic skills.

Pausing and eye contact must also be used during presentations. But because the stakes are higher and there’s work to be accomplished, they are often inadvertently ignored. This is why it’s important to be intentional about their use. For many, this is easier said than done. But for a disengaged presenter, it’s only through the intentional use of pausing and eye contact that you’ll be able to settle into the conversation and get business done.

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

Another 5-Star Review for “The Orderly Conversation” at Portland Book Review

April 1, 2015 in Book Reviews, News, The Orderly Conversation, Uncategorized

Review originally posted at the Portland Book Review

The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined by Dale Ludwig and Greg Owen-Boger

Portland Book Review

 

 

 

Approaching presentations as conversations leads to more engagement, which is necessary to successfully keep business moving forward. Authors Ludwig and Owen-Boger walk the reader through the steps in planning and delivering the ordered conversation following the structure of their training workshops. From getting engaged to framing the conversation, from presenting the information to managing interactions, seasoned and new presenters alike will benefit from this relevant and organized text. Some long-standing presentation rules are debunked as performance tactics, while valuable techniques such as pausing, eye contact, and directing attention are discussed and validated. Through the experience of eight workshop participants, the authors effectively show readers differing personalities and various presentation scenarios then present the adaptations each participant makes to achieve an ordered conversation. If, for example, one’s default presentation approach is to improvise, the tendency to be long-winded and get off track lends importance to using framing slides and prompts to stay focused. If one’s default approach is to script the entire presentation and practice to perfection, one risks performing and disengaging from the conversation.

Included in this text is a self-assessment to assist the reader in determining their default approach. Readers will likely recognize themselves in one or more of the workshop participants. Ever get nervous when presenting? The authors share how to manage that nervousness. Prefer to put the slides together, than to actually present them? That’s addressed. Have trouble figuring out where to start with visual aids? Authors Ludwig and Owen-Boger lead readers through four steps in defining the content and structuring the framing slides for a presentation. While readers won’t have the benefit of the videotaping and playback of presentations that workshop participants do within this book, it would be possible to follow this prescriptive and answer the questions shared to further improve presentation skills. The Orderly Conversation is a must-read for anyone looking to hone their presentation skills.

Reviewed by Lisa Ard

We Are Not the PowerPoint Police

January 12, 2015 in Author, Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Myths Debunked, Preparation, Presentation, Training

PowerPointPoliceBannerPeople often ask us about the rules for PowerPoint. Some examples include, “What’s the rule for …

  • the number of bullets on a slide?”
  • the number of words per bullet?”
  • the number of slides a presentation should have?”
  • the right font to use?”
  • the right size font to use?”

We also hear apologies like these:

  • “I know this is a lousy slide, but I didn’t have time to fix it.”
  • “You’re going to hate this slide, but my manager requires this format.”
  • “Sorry this is such a busy slide, but …”

Our response is always this:

Relax. We’re not the PowerPoint Police.

When we say this in our presentation skills workshops, there are two typical responses.

  1. Puzzlement. It’s as if we can hear the person thinking, “Come on. You’re the presentation expert. You should have rules about PowerPoint!”
  2. Relief. “Oh, thank goodness. Those rules about PowerPoint never made any sense to me.”

It’s true we’re presentation experts; and it’s also true that many of the rules out there don’t make any sense.

We’re not saying that there aren’t basic design guidelines that can enhance the design of a slide. What we are saying is that there are no hard-and-fast rules that must always be followed.

Why?

Because life isn’t that simple.

Imagine Walt Disney in a meeting where he had to present the 7 Dwarfs concept via PowerPoint. Unfortunately for Walt, some trainer had told him years ago that he could never have more than 6 bullets per slide. What’s he to do? Split them up onto separate slides? That doesn’t make any sense. Instead, he needs to be a pragmatist, ignore the rule, and list all 7 dwarfs together on one slide. (He could use just their pictures, but that assumes he’d remember their names. That’s a dangerous assumption if Walt’s experiencing nervousness that day.)

But, less is more, right?

Generally speaking, less is more when it comes to PowerPoint, but if following a rule gets in the way of quality communication, it’s a lousy rule and must be set aside.

So what do you recommend?

We like to think of PowerPoint as a tool to provide structure and to trigger the presenter’s thoughts. You are your presentation, not the slides. Use them to guide you through the presentation, rather than BEING the presentation. It will make your life easier. It will make the task of following you easier as well.

We’ve blogged and vlogged about these concepts several times over the years. Follow this link to read more.

by Greg Owen-Boger, VP at 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

No Easy Button

November 15, 2013 in Dale Ludwig, Myths Debunked, Nervousness, Preparation, Presentation, Training

easy-buttonRecently, Greg and I delivered a facilitation skills for trainers workshop to a group of Subject Matter Experts. This group had been called upon to deliver training to less-seasoned employees in the organization.

Although the training content was technical and detailed, it was also highly nuanced. The goal of the training was to help learners not only understand the details, but also help them know how to use them to make complex business decisions.

During our needs assessment discussion at the beginning of the class, one of the SMEs put it this way:

“We’re trying to teach people that there is no Easy Button. They need to learn how to think about this information so they can be confident using it to make decisions.”

As I charted that idea, I thought about how the same thing is true for our workshops. A lot of presenters are looking for the Easy Button. They want simple answers to complex questions. The problem is, many of the simple answers aren’t the right answers. Presenting and facilitating are too complex and improvement too individual for that.

Here are three of the most common questions we’re asked and our think-about-it-this-way responses. If you’ve participated in one our workshops, these probably sound familiar.

“How can I eliminate nervousness?” Instead of thinking of nervousness as something you can eliminate, think of it as something to be worked through. If you’ve participated in one of our workshops, you know that the key is engagement. Presenters need to figure out what they need to do to engage their listeners.

“How much should I rehearse?” First, we have to define what you mean by rehearsal. If you define it as the process of perfecting your presentation before it’s delivered, then you shouldn’t rehearse at all. However, you do need to be prepared, and the best way for you to prepare is affected by your Default. Improvisers prepare differently than Writers.

“Is it okay to have eight words in a single bullet point?” Instead of counting the words in a bullet point, think about how you’re planning to use it. Can it be easily read in relation to the other bullet points in the list? Does the bullet make understanding easier? Can you make it smoother or simpler? The number of words you wind up with is secondary to these more fundamental issues.

In the long run, our training is about simplifying improvement for everyone. It’s just that getting to a simple solution that is also the right solution for you takes thoughtful consideration.

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 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”

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

March 19, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Posts for Buyers, Presentation, Talent Development, Training

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

This is the last article in a series about the characteristics of successful business presentation training. The question I’ve set out to answer with the series is “How do I know I’m getting presentation skills training that will give me the skills I need to succeed on the job?” In the last entry, I focused on why real-life presentation content is a must. In this post I’ll focus on why understanding what you bring to the workshop is just as important as what you take away from it.

As I said before, your response to the content you deliver must be taken into consideration. When it isn’t, training becomes an academic exercise, one that may be interesting, but ultimately not that useful.

This same idea applies to your improvement as a whole. Your personal responses to the challenges of presenting have to be taken into consideration. This begins with the surface-level, but it doesn’t end there. Only by digging a little deeper, to find out what’s beneath what you’re feeling and thinking in the moment, can real improvement be achieved.

For example, nervousness is a common response to presenting. It is also a complicated response, unique to everyone who experiences it. Some presenters are nervous about what they’re saying, not quite sure if they will be able to stay focused on the plan. Others are nervous when they’re the center of attention. Still others are nervous about the audience or a particular person in the audience. Once the cause of your particular type of nervousness is found, you can be coached to focus on the behaviors that will help you manage it. Without understanding what’s behind the nervousness, coaching is hit or miss.

Another example involves presenters second-guessing themselves. Many of the people we work with tie themselves up in knots of self-doubt. They worry that they aren’t making sense or that some point or other didn’t come out the way they’d hoped. Coaching these presenters begins by figuring out if what the presenter is feeling is accurate. Are they really stumbling? Sometimes they are. But most of the time they aren’t. When that’s the case, the presenter just needs to understand that it’s in their nature to monitor themselves a little too strictly. And that means they can trust themselves more than they think. When they do, their confidence and comfort increase.

We always tell the people we train that we want them to be themselves. They don’t need to change who they are to succeed. My point here is that being yourself begins with knowing yourself. Success begins with an understanding of your visceral response to the challenges of presenting. On this level, there are no right and wrong responses. There is simply your response. Training should help you understand what that is and what you can do to manage it.

So to wrap up this series, remember that successful presentation skills training has these characteristics:

  • It focuses on presentations, not speeches. They are not the same.
  • It builds skills from the inside out.
  • It focuses on the nitty-gritty challenges of real-life content.
  • Coaching begins with an understanding of your unique response to the challenges of presenting.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication

Practice Makes Perfect… or not.

September 4, 2012 in Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Myths Debunked, Nervousness, Preparation, Presentation

 

greg 200x300A lot of people will tell you to “practice, practice, practice” because “practice makes perfect.”

When it comes to presenting, this is some of the worst advice you can get or give.

Practicing a presentation cannot possibly lead to perfection.

Here’s why.

Effective presentations are not speeches (which I suppose could be perfected). They are conversations. Conversations by their very nature are imperfect. They involve other people and are therefore unpredictable. They twist and turn. They stop and start. They go back on themselves. They jump forward.

You can’t predict any of that. Therefore, practicing a presentation until it is perfected is a foolish exercise.

The desire to be perfect and the pressure of other people telling you that you can be (should be) perfect puts the bar too high. And here’s what happens:

  • You put too much energy into reaching the bar,
  • which leads to nervousness,
  • which disengages you,
  • which puts you in your head trying to recreate the script you etched into your brain during practice,
  • which leads to a dull, lifeless, uninspiring meeting.

Hardly perfect.

It’s more than bad advice, though, it causes damage.
Strong words, I know. But I’ve worked with enough presenters to know that they drag around a lot of baggage from the bad advice and training they’ve received over the years. A lot of my job when coaching them is to undo the damage. I help people see things in a new way and I give them a new set of skills and techniques that will work uniquely for them.

If I were your coach
If we had the chance to work together, I’d start by asking you to redefine your next presentation as an Orderly Conversation. An Orderly Conversation is one that is carefully organized and flexibly executed.

When you think of presentations as Orderly Conversations, it changes how you think of (and use) your slides. They become thought starters that will trigger dialogue. They become support for the conversation rather than being the presentation. This new thinking will change the information you put on your slides and how you arrange it.

Let’s assume that your slides are complete and you feel that they will support the conversation you want to have. Now it’s time to review. Notice I said “review,” not practice. As you review your slides, look at each and grab a thought. That thought should launch the conversation you intended. If not, change it until it does.

As you think through each slide, avoid scripting yourself. Think of different ways of explaining each slide. Remember you’re not striving for perfection. You’re working toward flexibility.

Once the conversation begins, let loose and enjoy it. Trust that your slides will be there to support the conversation. Let it get a little messy, follow your listeners’ lead for a bit, bring it back around. You’ll be amazed at how much more fun presenting can be.

By Greg Owen-Boger, VP 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

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