What We Can Learn (and Not Learn) from Michael Bay

January 9, 2014 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Introduction, Myths Debunked, News, Preparation, Presentation, The Orderly Conversation

You might have heard about the public speaking nightmare film director and producer Michael Bay experienced at the Consumer Electronics Show January 6.

A word of warning, though, if you’re sensitive to watching someone have a meltdown and walk off stage without delivering his message, prepare yourself. I found it really painful. And it’s only 80 seconds long.

The responses to this that I’ve read online have focused on Bay’s need to rehearse more, his over-reliance on the prompter, and the fight or flight instinct he followed. You can read an article by Nancy Duarte (of Slide:ology fame) and others’ responses here.

Be Careful, Business Presentations are not Speeches

As someone who works with business presenters, I think the responses to Bay’s situation are a great opportunity to reassert a distinction we always emphasize in our workshops—the distinction between speeches and presentations.

  • Don’t assume that what would have helped Bay will help you. Remember the presentations you deliver are not speeches. They are Orderly Conversations. As such, they require an entirely different approach. Bay was trying to deliver a scripted message that was intended to sound conversational, not really be a conversation. While extensive rehearsal may have helped him, it won’t help you. The presentations you deliver are far too unpredictable for that.
  • Bay’s performance is a good warning for people who believe in scripting or memorizing the beginning of a presentation. Your presentation’s introduction is an important time. During that first minute, it’s your job to bring the audience into the conversation by responding to them and the environment you share right now. This cannot happen when you’re scripted. Even if you can appear to make it happen (which requires acting skills), you will not be fully engaged in the moment. Because of that, it’s really difficult to respond appropriately to the unexpected.
  • Bay trusted the prompter and it failed him. You need to trust yourself. Managing the unexpected—something business presenters face all the time, speechmakers not so much—requires staying engaged and giving yourself time to think. I’m sure when Bay watched the video of his performance, he knew exactly where he went wrong and what he should have done instead. We see this happen all the time reviewing participant videos in our workshops. It’s easy to know, after the fact, what should have happened. So it’s not a matter of coming up with something new when you’re stressed. It’s a matter of settling your thoughts so you can tap into what you already know.

So while Bay’s performance is a cautionary tale for speechmakers, for business presenters it’s an excellent reminder that your first responsibility is to initiate a conversation with your audience. Once that conversation has begun, it’s easy to bring what you have prepared into it.

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

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”

Youthful Skepticism

June 10, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Introduction, Preparation, Presentation

Last week I spent three hours working with a group of people just starting their careers, all in the non-profit sector. It was a real break from the usual business audience we work with in a couple ways. First, they were very young, many of them fresh out of college. So they had no problem challenging what I had to say.

Second, although their presentations were delivered to community-based organizations, their topics were very much like those we see in for-profit businesses. They focused on serving people better, being more efficient, and improving technology.

Before meeting with me, this group all took our online course. As part of that, they prepared a presentation and sent it to me. This gave me a chance to prepare feedback for them. Before I dove into their presentations last week, I asked if anyone had questions or comments about the online course.

A couple people in the group did, and it wasn’t exactly the kind of feedback I was expecting. They said they found the structure we had asked them to follow, especially the introduction to their presentations, very restrictive and regimented. “I would rather just start talking with my audience when I start. I’d give them an agenda, but that’s it.”[Tweet “Clarity, context, and relevance are necessary for every presentation, regardless of audience.”]

I probed a little and asked if the organizational structure felt like a straightjacket. “Yes,” they said.

We hear that a lot from class participants. People often feel we impose a strict structure for introductions, one that cramps their style.

After working with a few introductions and talking through the nuances of each, the group last week began to see that an introduction is just a framework, a framework listeners need. Further, while the goals of every introduction are the same, presenters are free to reach those goals any way they want. So there really isn’t a straightjacket, just goals to be met.

What struck me about this group of presenters is that they assumed there was a disconnect between our approach (all business) and their needs (all community-based-non-profit). What they wound up seeing was that clarity, context, and relevance are necessary components of every presentation, regardless of audience or purpose.

I’m looking forward to going back to this organization next year. It was good to work with a group of eager yet skeptical young people.

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

What We Can Learn from the Oscars

February 26, 2013 in Assessing Your Default, Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, Facilitation, FAQs, Myths Debunked, Presentation

I watched the 85th annual Oscar telecast on Sunday. I usually watch the show, and this year I actually stayed awake until the end. What I like about the Oscars is not so much who wins, but what people say after they’ve won one. I don’t know why, but there is something really enjoyable (and not necessarily in a kind way) about watching someone experience an incredible career high and immediately have to speak to an audience of millions about it.

The pleasure is greatest with the acting categories, of course, because the contrast is so great. Here are people who can deliver amazing performances on film and then struggle just like the rest of would during the acceptance speech.

For business people it reinforces just how challenging delivering a presentation actually is.

Because when you think about it, an acceptance speech—in terms of how it’s prepared and delivered—is not that different than a presentation. They are both in their own ways, Orderly Conversations. I’m sure every nominee, even if they thought they had no chance of winning, had a plan. They thought about what they wanted to say and the order in which they wanted to say it. Some of them thought about the message they wanted to get across (Ben Affleck’s was that when you get knocked down in life, “All that matters is that you gotta get up.”)

Beyond those basics, though, there are other similarities. So here is a list of statements that are true for both the presentations you deliver and Oscar acceptance speeches.

  • Scripting doesn’t work. The best thing about this year’s show was that no one I saw pulled out a piece of paper, unfolded it, and started reading. When winners read a script like that they are never engaging or interesting.
  • People are nervous but they work through it. It’s interesting to go back and watch the acceptance speeches online. What you notice is that almost everyone is nervous at first (usually having a hard time catching their breath and saying a lot of ums and uhs), but they pause, breathe, think, and then settle down. Adele was the only winner who never fully gained her composure during her acceptance. The good thing is that she also made fun of herself for it. Which brings me to this comparison.
  • When they make mistakes, they laugh at themselves and move on. What did Jennifer Lawrence say after she fell walking up the stairs? “You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell.” That’s a perfect recovery.
  • Speaking quickly when you’re running out of time doesn’t help. Ben Affleck tried that last night before he got to the closing I quoted above (which was very well delivered). When he was speeding along he lost control and got into trouble with his “marriage is hard work” remark.
  • The best ones feel spontaneous. It doesn’t matter if acceptance speeches aren’t perfect. Those of us in the audience don’t want to see perfectly planned performances. The acceptance speech is one of the few times the public sees actors as they really are (or as close as we’ll ever get to it). We want to see them in the moment, responding to what’s happening in a genuine way. The same can be said for your presentations.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication

Presentation Skills Training: REDEFINED. (Part 2 of 5)

February 5, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Posts for Buyers, Presentation, Training

Part 1, Part 3, Part 4Part 5

This is the second 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 is not to take issue with the teaching that takes place in university classrooms. Rather, I’m arguing against the application of that methodology—or parts of it—in the corporate training room.

This post will focus on the most fundamental question involved: what is your workshop training you to do?

If the training you receive applies the Public Speaking 101 approach, you are being taught to deliver a speech. A speechmaking approach is built on assumptions and goals that are unique to that particular type of communication.

  • Speeches are meticulously prepared, often scripted.
  • The delivery of a speech is a type of performance, one that has probably been rehearsed.

No matter what type of speech you’re delivering this process is the same. Whether you’re a president delivering a State of the Union address, a speaker at a TED conference, a motivational speaker paid to inspire, or a student working for a good grade in 101, your job is to nail down your message and deliver it with the control and finesse of an actor. In this way, a speech is a type of performance.

Speechmakers succeed when everyone in the room is drawn in, when the audience responds to the message and the messenger.

Business presentations are a fundamentally different process, not simply because they may involve smaller audiences or focus on mundane topics. The difference between a speech and a presentation is in the nature of the connection between speaker and audience. At its core, a business presentation is a conversation, a process in which presenter and audience are engaged in a give and take. No matter what the goal may be—gaining buy in, selling something, sharing information—presenters and their audiences work together. If presenters approach a presentation as a performance, this process can’t take place.

Presenters succeed when their message is an appropriate response to the here and now of the audience.

This distinction affects the way your presentations are prepared, how visuals are used to support them, what effective delivery looks and feels like, and how interactions are encouraged and controlled. If your presentation skills training ignores these differences, you’re getting the wrong set of tools.

In the next post I’ll discuss the non-performance tools you need to engage your audiences in the conversation.

Part 1, Part 3, Part 4Part 5

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication

Do I Have to Talk about Every Slide?

October 8, 2012 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, FAQs, Presentation, Video

Dale Ludwig, President of Turpin Communication, answers the question, “Do I have to talk about every slide in my deck?”

Successful Presenting Starts with Understanding Your Default Approach

April 19, 2010 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Preparation

One thing that sets Turpin apart from other presentation skills training companies is that we think of presentations as Orderly Conversations, because they share characteristics with both writing and conversation. Like a written document, a good presentation is thoughtfully prepared and structured. It is clear and accurate. Like a conversation, it’s also spontaneous, interactive and unpredictable.

Defining presentations in this way helps us answer some of the most fundamental questions presentation skills trainers face:

  • How do you explain why techniques that work for one presenter don’t work for others?
  • Why is it that the old maxim “Practice makes perfect” isn’t always true?
  • How is it that someone can be a dynamic speaker, but after listening to them you have no idea what their point was?
  • How do you deal with the fact that people approach the presentation process with totally different assumptions?

Questions like these have been ignored for too long.
The answers lie in accepting every individual as they are and building the training process around each presenter’s Default Approach. Participants come to a presentation skills class with various levels of experience, different educational backgrounds and unique personalities. All of these things influence the way they think about and execute the presentation process. Their combined influence results in a unique Default Approach, their gut response to the idea of preparing and delivering a presentation. While there’s nothing wrong with anyone’s Default, presenters need to be aware of them if they want to improve. Here’s a quick description of the two basic defaults, Writers and Improvisers.

First, there are the Writers.

Writers thrive with preparation and organization. They are naturally thorough and often feel there is never enough time to prepare. Writers incorrectly assume that the success of a presentation lies in what they do before they deliver it.

The Downside
Because of this, Writers tend to stick to their plan regardless of what’s happening in the room.  Unfortunately, things never go as planned, leading to an inflexible approach and high levels of anxiety.

Adjustments
During preparation, Writers need to remind themselves that their presentations will never be perfect, no matter how much they strive for it. They need to simplify their slides and focus on what listeners will gain from the information they’re presenting, not simply the information itself.

During delivery, Writers need to focus on the big picture instead of the details, and stop trying to say things perfectly.

The Results
When they make these types of adjustments they will naturally feel that they haven’t (1) said things as well as they could, (2) provided enough detail and (3) demonstrated their knowledge. The good news is that even though Writers may feel this way, they’re probably doing just fine. And their listeners will appreciate their clear, concise conversational delivery.

On the other side are the Improvisers.

Improvisers thrive with the conversational connection they create with listeners. Chances are good that they are fairly comfortable presenters and don’t worry too much about preparation. But, Improvisers incorrectly assume that they can trust themselves to be clear and concise.

The Downside
Unfortunately their confidence leads to ineffective preparation, and rambling presentations. Some Improvisers delay or avoid preparation altogether. The result can be a set of slides that don’t quite hit the mark. Once the presentation starts, Improvisers tend to lose their focus, go off on tangents, forget about their slides, and confuse their listeners.

Adjustments
An Improviser’s improvement starts with the realization that a well-prepared presentation is not a straitjacket. Instead, preparation should result in a strong, flexible framework for the presentation. This is especially important for the introduction, a time when Improvisers really need to set clear direction for the rest of the presentation. Also, Improvisers will do themselves a huge favor by using slide titles that focus on the main point for each slide.

As they deliver their presentations, Improvisers need to refer to their slide titles to remind them of their point. When they’ve done that, they’re free to improvise.

The Results
When they make these types of adjustments, Improvisers may feel that their slides are getting in the way of the conversation, maybe even that the slides aren’t really necessary. In spite of this, though, Improvisers should remember that listeners need structure. It’s the job of every presenter, no matter how engaging he or she may be, to make listening and understanding as easy as possible. And that means paying attention to what’s on the screen.

Be Yourself

When presenters recognize and successfully manage their Default Approach, the preparation process will be more efficient and their presentations will be more comfortably and effectively delivered. Helping presenters understand and manage their Defaults is one of the ways Turpin has redefined presentation skill training. And, it’s another way that our training helps presenters be themselves…only better.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication