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”

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”

Taking Time is a Sign of Respect

March 22, 2016 in Barbara Egel, Delivery, Presentation

In our business presentation workshops, we sometimes do an exercise in which we stretch the length of a pause—way beyond what would ever be comfortable or necessary—in order to show our learners how pausing helps eliminate a variety of presentation habits they want to avoid. We also teach people that in a presentation or meeting setting, after they’ve been asked a question, they should pause to think about the best answer, taking into account the whole presentation, the entire audience’s need, and the level of detail the question requires in the present circumstances.

Later, in the coaching room, when I’m one-on-one with our learners, I often hear, “But if I pause too long, I feel like I’m wasting my audience’s time.” My reply to that is this: You owe your audience the highest quality response you can give, and if that means taking a couple of seconds to ponder what that should be, your audience gets it. If you watch presentations or talks given by powerful people, there’s often a lot of silence. Some of this may be for dramatic effect, sure, but some is definitely the speaker taking time to formulate their next thought to guarantee that it’s the highest quality content they can offer.

[Tweet “When answering questions, there is something inherently respectful…in taking a moment to think”]

When answering questions, there is something inherently respectful—almost complimentary to the questioner—in taking a moment to think. It signals that you take the question seriously, that you’re not delivering a canned answer, and that you listened to the question all the way to the end.

Remember, if you’ve been given 15 or 30 or 120 minutes to present, you own that time, and it’s up to you to use it as efficiently and effectively as you can. Sometimes, that means giving yourself a moment in order to give your audience the best you’ve got.

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

4 Reasons to Break Annoying Presentation Habits BEFORE You Present

August 19, 2015 in Barbara Egel, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, FAQs, Preparation, Presentation, The Orderly Conversation

Often, our learners walk into Turpin workshops expecting to focus on the little habits that are hard to break: saying “um,” “uh,” “like,” or “you know” too much; using uptalk (that habit that makes every statement sound like a question); fidgeting/not standing still; keeping hands in pockets; making a particular face or gesture. Our response is to say that when you are truly engaged and practicing both good, meaningful eye contact and thoughtful pausing, those habits tend to fall away. And most importantly, when you are presenting in a real work situation, we want you focused on engagement and explaining and discussing your content, not being distracted by concerns about goofy little habits.

However, if you’re someone in whom the habits are clearly really ingrained or you want to work on your particular habit just to make sure it goes away, I advise that you work on it in your real-life, low-stakes conversations. This has several benefits:

[Tweet “Work on little, annoying habits in your real-life, low-stakes conversations.”]

  1. If you truly do work on your habits in normal conversations at work and at home, by the time your next VersB Chalkboardpresentation rolls around, the problem will be gone or at least seriously diminished.
  2. It will keep you from fixating on negative observations about yourself during your presentation, which is a guaranteed way to disengage from your audience and end up spinning inside your own head. That spinning kills your effectiveness much more certainly than any amount of uptalk or “like” ever could.
  3. Working on these things when talking with your friends or discussing work with colleagues informally is a safe way to improve your presentations when the stakes are low.
  4. You will be perceived by everyone you encounter as more adult, more authoritative, and more credible once your speech and stance have been permanently rid of these habits. A side benefit is that it works wonders with the cable guy, your significant other’s parents, and snooty restaurant hosts.

[Tweet “You will be perceived as more adult, more authoritative, and more credible.”]

In short, if there’s a presentation habit that’s driving you nuts, bring it out of the presentation space to work on in your day-to-day life so that by the time you’re in front of an audience, you, like, um, totally trust yourself to be on top of those habits, right?

By Barbara Egel, Presentation Coach at Turpin Communication and editor of “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”

Presentation Skills Training: REDEFINED. (Part 3 of 5)

February 20, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Posts for Buyers, Presentation, Training

Part 1, Part 2, Part 4Part 5

This is the third in a series of five blog posts focusing on the distinction between the academic approach to public speaking and the skill-building approach business presenters need. My goal with this series is to talk about why the application of Public Speaking 101 approaches in the corporate training room fails to meet the needs of business presenters.

This post will focus on what are traditionally called “delivery skills.” These are the physical and vocal skills you use to communicate in every face-to-face interaction. If you approach your presentation as a performance instead of a conversation (as I discussed in my last post), your focus will be on how these skills look and sound to your audience. The success of a performance of a speech involves, for example, establishing eye contact with your audience to appear trustworthy, pausing to emphasize your points, controlling gestures to appear professional, and bringing enthusiasm to your voice.

What’s missing with that approach is consideration of what these skills do for you, the presenter. Let’s look at eye contact and pausing. During our workshops we talk about these skills as engagement skills. When they are used well, they help presenters relax, focus, and bring their listeners into the conversation.

The use of these skills, in other words, is about much more than simply how they make you look and sound. They are essential for the conversation. Through their application you are able to keep your thoughts and focus in the here and now. If you’re only thinking about how these skills appear to others, it takes you out of the moment and turns your focus inward. This weakens your connection to listeners and turns the conversation into a performance.

For most people, after you’re engaged in the conversation, your other delivery skills take care of themselves. Gestures occur naturally and vocal enthusiasm is appropriate and genuine. So rather than thinking of these skills as the polish you apply to performance, think of them as the welcome result of being engaged in the conversation.

In the next post I’ll talk about the need to bring real-life presentations into training.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 4Part 5

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication

Engage in the Conversation

March 5, 2012 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, FAQs, Preparation

As you know, if you’ve ever participated in one of our workshops, we talk a lot about the use of engagement skills, eye contact and pausing. We say that using these skills to engage listeners in the conversation reduces nervousness, brings listeners into the conversation and helps you avoid the hazards of a canned performance.

Recently I picked up a public speaking text book written in 1915 by James Winans. The title is Public Speaking, Principles and Practice. I won’t go into the details about how I landed on a text written almost a hundred years ago, but I can say I was pretty happy with what I found in it. Winans has something to teach us.

Winans comes from the perspective that public speaking is “perfectly natural” and an extension of what he calls “that most familiar act” of conversation. That’s right in line with what we teach in 2012. What really impressed me, though, was his precise definition of what it means to be engaged. For Winans, engagement requires two conversational elements:

1.    Full realization of the content of your words as you utter them, and
2.    A lively sense of communication

In other words, presenters need to (1) think about what they’re saying as they’re saying it and (2) they need to speak for the purpose of communicating with someone else.

You may be thinking that this is incredibly obvious and really not worth pointing out. But think about what happens when these two elements are missing from a presentation. Without the first, the presenter may be performing something that’s been rehearsed over and over again. Or floating along on autopilot, not really thinking about what he or she is saying. Without the second, the presenter is operating in a vacuum, not responding to the audience, not adapting to the situation, not caring whether anything is communicated or not.

So what Winans is teaching us is what engagement requires, what presenters need to think about and where their attention should go to be engaged in the conversation. His ideas enrich our sense of how eye contact and pausing work as the two engagement skill presenters rely on.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication

Eliminating Static: How to Help Listeners Tune into You and Your Presentation

August 3, 2010 in Author, Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Preparation

Ever listen to an AM radio program while you’re driving?  If so, you know how static can make it difficult to hear the program.  No matter how much you try to tune in (either by listening more intently or adjusting the dial) there are times when you just can’t hear or understand what’s being said.  So, you do one of three things:

  1. zone out
  2. grab the bits you CAN hear
  3. change the dial

It’s frustrating when this happens.  You’re being made to work too hard to understand, so you give up.

This metaphor can be applied to presentations.
Greg Owen-Boger, Vice President of Turpin CommunicationIf you’ve been in a workshop with me in the last few years, chances are good this concept isn’t new to you.

Think back to a recent presentation or training session you delivered. Were people tuned into you?

Yes?  Good job.
No?  Or not sure?  Ask yourself these questions:

  • Was I unintentionally causing static?
  • Did I make my listeners work too hard so they tuned me out?

Static – or what others might call distractions – can creep into presentations in a lot of ways.  Here are some of them:

Behavior during delivery:

  • Not pausing between thoughts can make you seem frenzied.
  • Pacing or wandering about the room for no reason can make you seem unfocused.
  • Saying too many “ums” or “uhs.”  (Read this post to see what we say about this, it may NOT be a static problem.)
  • Poor eye contact (bouncing quickly from person to person or looking through or over people) can make you appear disengaged or nervous.
  • Fidgeting with a pen, ring or remote can make you look uncomfortable.
  • Speaking with low volume or in monotone can make you seem timid.

Ineffective preparation:

  • Creating visual aids that are disorganized can make you appear unprofessional.
  • Designing visual aids with lots of animation or wild colors can make you appear juvenile.
  • Cluttering up your slides with too much information can confuse listeners.

All of these things can distract listeners and make them tune you out.

It’s your responsibility as the speaker to help listeners stay tuned in.
Having said something, doesn’t mean that it’s been heard and understood.  As presenter, you need to take responsibility for making sure that both things happen.

So, what are the ways to eliminate static?
First, you need to be aware of your listeners’ response to you.  You need to actually see and take mental note of how tuned in they are.  Look for their reactions, and respond accordingly just as you would in everyday conversation.

Second, if you notice that they are tuning out, help them tune back in.  You can:

Adjust your behaviors:

  • Pause longer and more often than you’re accustomed to.
  • Move with purpose, and when you get to your destination (screen, laptop, closer to a single individual) stay there longer than you naturally would.
  • Put down the pen or anything else that might cause you to fidget.
  • Increase your volume.

Tune into them:

  • Establish better eye contact and stay with the person through the end of a thought before moving on.
  • Get them talking by asking for feedback on your topic.  Rhetorical questions are not what I’m talking about here; ask genuine questions and look for thoughtful answers.

Ah… that sounds better.  What a relief.
Let’s go back to the scenario in the car.  You’re driving along listening to the AM radio show, and all of a sudden everything is clear with no static at all.  What a relief.  You can finally hear and understand what’s being said.

Work to be that clear every time you present.

by Greg Owen-Boger, VP and 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

Help! I`m Long-winded!

September 30, 2008 in Assessing Your Default, Author, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, Engaging Listeners, FAQs, Greg Owen-Boger, Handling Questions, Managing the Orderly Conversation, Presentation

When you’re delivering a presentation and the thought crosses your mind that you may have said enough, you probably have. Move on to your next agenda item. Your listeners will appreciate it.

But what if the thought never occurs to you that you might have said enough? Well, for one thing, your listeners will tune you out as you drone on and on. When that happens, you’ll have a tough time getting them back. That is, if you even notice that they’ve tuned out. (If you’re rambling on, there’s a fair chance that you’re too much in your head and not paying enough attention to your listeners.)

So, the issue here is not that you’ve said too much – it’s easy to talk a lot about your topic when you know a lot about it. The key is to recognize that you’ve said too much and make the conscious decision to move on.[Tweet “If the thought crosses your mind that you have said enough, you probably have.”]

If you know us, you know that we’re always talking about the benefits of pausing. This time is no exception. Pausing is critical for many reasons.

  • It helps you gather your thoughts.
  • It helps you regain control of your nerves.
  • It helps you engage your listeners.
  • It gives your listeners time to digest what you’ve just said.

And it even helps you recognize that you’ve said enough, and that it’s time to move on.

As I often say in class, pausing is your friend.

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