Looking Over People’s Heads

March 12, 2012 in Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, Engaging Listeners, FAQs, Greg Owen-Boger, Myths Debunked, Nervousness


I’ve been told that when I’m nervous I should look over my audience’s heads. Is that true?

greg 200x300Answer:
No. You have been given some terrible advice. We hear this sort of thing all the time.

One of the things that triggers nervousness is the notion that your presentation should be a performance played to a faceless group of people. If it were a performance, this idea might make sense.

But a presentation is a conversation. You cannot converse with a faceless group of people. Instead, you need to converse with living/breathing/thinking individuals. This requires that you look people in the eye and actually SEE them. You need to recognize their reactions and how they’re responding to you. When you do that, you can respond back. When you see their smiles and nods, you know you’re on the right track. When you see looks of confusion, you know you need to explain something a little differently or go into more detail. This is what you automatically do in normal, everyday, low-stakes conversations. This same level of engagement needs to apply to presentations.

So, look people in the eye, connect with them. This will reduce your nervousness and you’ll feel and look comfortable and in control of the conversation. It also takes the pressure off of having to be perfect. Conversations are messy by nature. Embrace that thought. Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t prepare for your presentations. I’m saying that once they begin, they need to feel structured AND conversational. Looking people in the eye and settling into the conversation is how to do it.

But that seems counter-intuitive, you’re probably thinking.

Yes, it does. After all, the people in the room are the things that are making you nervous. What you have to realize is that they are not passive viewers whose sole responsibility is to judge your performance. Instead they want to be active participants in the conversation. They may not speak as much as you, but they’re still participating in the dialogue. The only way to engage them in it is to look them in the eye and respond to their contributions.

What thoughts do you have?

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

Presentation Baggage Causes Barriers to Learning

January 30, 2012 in Author, Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Myths Debunked, Posts for Buyers, Preparation, Training

greg 200x300Recently I had a lively phone call with a potential client. It was clear that he had done his homework and had some pretty tough questions for me and the other presentation skills training vendors he was looking at.

Here’s my favorite: “What’s the biggest barrier you face when working with people in your workshops?”

I love this question. First, it forces me (and our competitors) to acknowledge the reality that training isn’t always easy and that challenges do exist. Second, it shows me that he’s not just checking training off his list. He’s truly interested in finding a partner he can trust to bring about long-term behavior change.

Answer this question right, I thought to myself, and we’ll be his vendor of choice.

My answer came rather easily because it’s something we talk about a lot around our office.

The biggest barrier when working with business presenters is dealing with all the baggage they carry around with them.

Here’s what I mean.

Most business presenters endured Public Speaking 101 back in college.

  • Always start with an outline.
  • Memorize the opening of your speech.
  • Vary your intonation to be more interesting.
  • Nervousness should be avoided, so look at peoples’ foreheads, not in the eye.

Some have lived through ineffective rules-based corporate training.

  • “You need to hold your hands like this.”
  • “You should pinch your fingers together so that you won’t be nervous.”
  • “Never ever put your hands in your pockets.”
  • “Never ever turn your back to your audience.”
  • “Always stand to the right of the screen.”
  • “Never look at your slides.”
  • “You need to look them in the eye for at least 3 seconds.”
  • Never say ‘um.’

Many have been given feedback by their managers.

  • “Present more like Sam. He’s dynamic and funny.”
  • “You sound like you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
  • “You need to smile more.”
  • “You move your hands too much.”
  • “You don’t move your hands enough.”
  • “Speed up.”
  • “Slow down.”
  • “You stood in the light of the projector. Never do that.”

All of these experiences – the rules, the bits of bad advice– pile up and become their baggage, their barriers to learning. These presenters can’t possibly be effective and confident because of it.

So, what’s the solution?

The bulk of what we do in our workshops is to give people permission to let go of the baggage so they can settle into the conversation.

We call it: Find your focus. Be yourself. Only better. We’ve blogged about this before, but here’s what we mean.

Find your focus means to settle your racing mind and be present. Engage your audience here and now. Don’t think ahead, and don’t beat yourself up for what you just said.

Be yourself means to stop trying to emulate someone else. Just be you.

Only better means that once you are engaged and comfortable, you will be able to manage the challenges of presenting. You’ll be able to read the non-verbal cues from your audience. You’ll know when you’ve said enough and it’s time to move on. You’ll know if you need to slow down. You’ll recognize that you’ve walked into the light of the projector and need to move out of it. You’ll be self aware and in control.

This process helps people let go of the baggage, and it makes all the difference.

If you’re a workplace learning professional, what barriers to learning do you see?

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

Flexibility in PowerPoint Slide Preparation

January 9, 2012 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Facilitation, Preparation

This is part 3 of a 3-part series. Part 1. Part 2.

This is a follow-up to the post I wrote last month about preparing to be flexible. Here, I’m going to focus on a new way to think about the slides you use.

If we’re going to take the “conversation” part of the Orderly Conversation seriously, we need to think of a presentation as essentially the same process as sitting down and talking with someone across the desk about your topic. This sort of conversation happens all the time during our workshops. Before participants get up to the deliver the presentation to the group, I always sit down with them and look at the slides they’ve prepared. The first questions I ask are usually, “So what is your presentation about?” “Who’s your audience?” and “Why are you delivering this?” After I get a basic understanding of the presentation’s topic and audience, we go through the slides one by one. As we do that, if I get lost, I ask “So what’s your goal with this slide? Why did you prepare it this way?”

What’s happening during this process is an easy conversation about each slide in the deck. Participants aren’t nervous because they don’t think of this as an actual presentation. They’re just filling me in on what their intentions were when they created the slides.

The thing is, though, this is exactly the way presenters should deliver their slides during a presentation. While they may not have someone sitting next to them saying, “What was your goal when you put this slide together?” that’s the question they need to answer.

It comes down to a time issue. Slides are something you prepare at one point in time for a conversation that will take place at another point in time. Acknowledging that distinction, that separation, is a great way to keep the slides in perspective and the presentation conversational. When you talk about your intentions with your slide, or how the slide fits into this particular moment in the presentation, they become something you use to make your point, not something that must be followed no matter what. For example, saying things like this are helpful for you and your audience:

  • When I created this slide, my goal was to draw attention to…
  • I pulled data together from a couple sources here to show you…
  • We started talking about this information a couple minutes ago when Doreen asked about…

So remember, you’ll gain flexibility when you acknowledge that the slides you deliver are the product of work you did in advance of the conversation. From there, you can go where you need to go in the conversation.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication

Prepare to be Flexible

December 19, 2011 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Facilitation, Preparation

This is part 2 of a 3-part series. Part 1. Part 3.

This is a follow-up to the blog I wrote a couple months ago about extemporaneous delivery. That post was about the fact that there isn’t a lot of agreement about what “extemporaneous” delivery actually means. Some sources say that it involves preparation and the use of notes. Others believe that it’s an impromptu approach to delivery with no preparation all.

What I find interesting is that the options described in those definitions are precisely the options business presenters have to think about during a presentation. How should they prepare? What are the goals of preparation? How should their “notes”— PowerPoint slides or handout—be used during delivery? These questions all have to do with balancing the orderly part of a presentation with the conversational part of it.

The first step is to prepare to be flexible. That means a couple things.

  1. It means you never know exactly what may happen during a presentation. While you need to anticipate your listeners’ situation, you can never completely predict it. So, preparing to be flexible means that you go into the presentation ready to adapt.
  2. Being ready to adapt means having a plan that will go with the flow of the conversation.

What does this mean in practice? Here are the three things you should do:

  1. As you know, it’s important to acknowledge the audience’s current situation in the introduction of your presentation. Remember, though, that the current situation can change quickly. For example, there may be people in your audience you didn’t know would be there or maybe something happened in the presentation before you that affects yours. Be ready to recognize the new situation and respond to it.
  2. Treat your agenda as a simple road map, as one of the ways to reach your destination. You may find when the presentation begins that you need to backtrack a little or take a detour. As long as you keep your destination in mind, it doesn’t matter how you get there. Reaching your goal is more important than blindly following your agenda.
  3. Think about different ways to explain the information in the body of your presentation. Imagine how your explanations would change if they were delivered to different people or in response to specific questions from your audience. This will increase your flexibility when you’re deep into the conversation and need to adapt to various people and perspectives.

In my next post on this topic, I’ll discuss what the “extemporaneous” delivery of slides and handouts requires.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication

Extemporaneously Speaking…

October 18, 2011 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Facilitation

This is part 1 of a 3-part series. Part 2. Part 3.

When I’m not in the classroom these days, my focus is on the book I’m writing for business presenters. A few weeks ago I was working on one of the early chapters, the one in which I try to explain what it is about business presentations that makes them challenging and unique. If you’re familiar with our approach, you know that we treat presentations as Orderly Conversations. Not speeches. Not performances. But a conversation between presenter and audience that must be prepared, initiated and managed.

So there I was struggling through a paragraph when it occurred to me that I needed a word to describe what happens when an Orderly Conversation is delivered. If it’s not a performance and it’s not entirely off-the-cuff, what is it? The best word I could come up with was “extemporaneous,” an old-fashioned sounding term I hadn’t really used since leaving academia over 20 years ago. I’m sure you remember that students in Public Speaking 101 are encouraged to be extemporaneous; to deliver their speeches in a way that sounds spontaneous, even though they’re prepared.

So, I went to www.dictionary.com to get the definition. What I found was helpful, but not in the way I’d hoped.


  1. done, spoken, performed, etc., without special advance preparation; impromptu: an extemporaneous speech.
  2. previously planned but delivered with the help of few or no notes: extemporaneous lectures.
  3. speaking or performing with little or no advance preparation: extemporaneous actors. (emphasis mine)

All of these definitions focus on the tension between preparation and spontaneous delivery, but they do so in conflicting ways. The first mentions that being extemporaneous means delivery “without special advance preparation.” The second focuses on planning in advance and the possibility of using notes during delivery. The third claims that a speaker can be extemporaneous without any preparation at all.

What’s interesting is that these definitions are wrestling with the question every presenter struggles to answer: What’s the best way to manage the tension between preparation and delivery?  What type of planning or preparation works? How much should you prepare? Should you use notes? What about rehearsal?

These dictionary entries point to the complexity of this challenge. In future blog posts I’ll talk about what it means to be “extemporaneous” and what you can do to keep your presentations both orderly and conversational.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication

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

Announcing FREE Trials at OnlinePresentationSkillsTraining.com

April 26, 2010 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Mary Clare Healy, News, Preparation, Sarah Stocker, Training

Take one of Turpin Communication’s online presentation skills courses for a spin before buying.

Been thinking about taking one of our online courses, but for some reason haven’t?  Now there’s no reason not to.  Today we’re announcing free trials of all of our courses.

Simply go to www.onlinepresentationskillstraining.com, click the “Start FREE Trial” button, create an account and begin learning.

If you like what you see, you can purchase the full version and continue learning immediately.

If you give business presentations, we encourage you to take advantage of this new offer. No matter which of the courses you choose, you’ll work on a real-life presentation and take your skills to the next level of effectiveness.

Preparing a Presentation
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Managing Nervousness & Engaging Listeners
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The Comprehensive Presentation Skills Course
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Need to train your entire team?  Check out the Multi-user License here.

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