My Mother’s Attic Part 2: When the Rules Take Over

July 9, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Myths Debunked, Presentation, Talent Development

Part 1, Part 3

As I mentioned in the first article on this topic, I stumbled upon an old elocution textbook among a pile of books that were about to be hauled away from my mother’s house. It was published in 1895, at the tail end of elocutionary movement’s popularity. While the movement began as a way to improve the delivery of lawyers and religious leaders, at this point it had evolved to focus on the performance of literary passages in schools.

My mother hated the classes she took in school because they required a very specific type of delivery, one based on following strict and, from her perspective and from ours, pretty silly rules. For example, there are rules for how shoulders should be used to express extreme joy or hate. Rules about communicating anger by clenching your fists. Elbows turned out indicates self-assertion. Here’s a passage describing how a performer should stand when “no particular emotion is expressed,” a sort of neutral position, I guess.

Stand with one foot a little in advance of the other with the weight of the body resting on the advanced foot, the left arm hanging easily at the side, and the right hand extended toward the audience, the first finger straight, and the others slightly curved, with the palm slightly exposed. (from The Ideal Orator and Manual of Elocution, John Wesley Hanson, Jr. and Lillian Woodward Gunckel, editors, pages 24 and 25)

As odd as all the rules in this book are, there’s something to be learned in the way they came about. The elocutionary movement began in the eighteenth century as a way to capture what was good about effective public speakers. The behaviors of great speakers were observed and these observations were turned into rules for everyone to follow.

The reason the original speakers were great was because there was a close connection between what they said and how they said it. As the rules developed, the natural connection between what and how was lost. All that remained were the rules, the shell of good delivery. That’s how in the early years of the twentieth century there were schoolchildren reciting poetry while worrying about whether their elbows were turned out or in.

The question we need to ask ourselves is how far have we really come from this approach? If we take away the archaic language of The Ideal Orator, and the fact that it focuses on the performance of literature, if we account for how the style of delivery has changed over the past century, aren’t we looking at a process still used in a lot of presentation skills training classrooms today?

How about when participants in our workshops ask us about the rules for gestures, where the “power position” is in the room, whether crossed arms are a bad thing, or how many seconds of eye contact are appropriate?

Aren’t they making the same assumptions made by the elocutionists? Aren’t they separating the what from the how?

In my next article, I’ll focus on the answers to these questions.

Part 1, Part 3

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

Just Because You Said It Doesn’t Mean It Was Heard

February 13, 2013 in Author, Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Presentation, Training

greg 200x300“I swear I said that they’d see incremental sales growth,” said Angela as she sat down to review her video with me.

Angela was a participant in a recent Mastering Your Presentations workshop. Dale Ludwig was the lead instructor. I was the participants’ video coach. My job is to guide participants through video review, focusing on (a) what they’re doing well, (b) where they could improve, and (c) identifying skills and techniques that will work for them.

So, there was Angela (not her real name). She was confused and frustrated because her classmates claimed she hadn’t mentioned how her buyer would gain incremental sales growth if he would approve the promotion she was recommending. “That was the whole point of the presentation!” she said.

“Let’s watch the video and see,” I said. So I popped the video in and we watched.

About 20 seconds into her presentation, there it was. “See?” she said. “I knew I’d said it.”

So, if Angela had said the words why then hadn’t her classmates heard them?

The problem is that Angela wants to be perfect. She’s very concerned about looking silly and mentally monitors everything she says and does. She described it as “being in my head.” Unfortunately, this has led her to rehearse every presentation to find the “right” way to make a point.

This graphic shows a distressed presenter. Angela sees herself in the image. This presenter is thinking:

  • Did I say that correctly?disengaged-presenter
  • My voice sounds strange.
  • My hands feel heavy.
  • What’s on my next slide?

As I coached Angela, I helped her realize that merely getting the words out isn’t enough. She must say them to SOMEONE. She needs to look people in the eye (not over their heads as she’d been told), see their faces, look for their understanding, and react accordingly. This is the same thing that happens in everyday low-stakes conversations. But for Angela, the pressure of having to deliver a perfect presentation pulls her out of the moment and into her head.

On the other hand, this presenter has an outward focus. He’s:engaged_presenter

  • Speaking with his audience, not at them
  • In the moment
  • Seeing faces and responding
  • Self-aware
  • Connected with the individuals in the room
  • In control
  • Comfortable

In short, he is engaged. He knows instinctively what to do and say, just as he does in everyday low-stakes conversations.

“This all makes sense to me,” said Angela, “but how can I do it?”

“The answer lies in turning your focus outward, toward the individuals you’re speaking with,” I said. “Take a moment to breathe and survey the room. Look them in the eye. Make the connection. Look for their reaction. Remember, this has nothing to do with your performance and everything to do with their understanding.”

“I like that,” she said. “I’m going to write that down. It’s not about my performance. It’s about them.”

Luckily for Angela, the class wasn’t over and she had another opportunity to deliver her presentation later that day. And what a difference. She was terrific. She was engaged. She made her points clearly and conversationally. She wasn’t nervous.

The proof of her success came from one of her colleagues when she said, “I finally understood what you were trying to say. Your buyer would be nuts not to approve this promotion.”

Indeed.

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