Optics Matter

October 8, 2013 in Author, Greg Owen-Boger, Meetings

greg 200x300Gretchen Pisano, a consultant colleague of mine, starts many of her consulting engagements with this quote, “Be present or be absent, but don’t be both.” Learn about Gretchen here:  Sounding Board, Inc.

I love that quote.

Next time you’re in a meeting, look around. How many of your colleagues are physically in the room, but not present?

They might be staring off or checking their email. They might even be playing a game on their smart phone.

Who knows? They could actually be listening, but you wouldn’t know it. They appear disinterested and disengaged, and that sends a message to everyone else in the room.

We all know this, of course, but it’s good to be reminded once in a while:

Optics matter.

It’s not enough to be engaged. You need to look engaged too.

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

People think I’m mad all the time. As it turns out, I just have a “thinking face.” Anything I can do?

July 30, 2012 in Author, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, Engaging Listeners, FAQs, Handling Questions, Managing the Orderly Conversation, Presentation, Sarah Stocker

This is a problem I’m very familiar with; I too have a “thinking face.” When I am deep in thought my face naturally gets a very stern look on it. I didn’t realize it until my colleagues kept asking me, “What’s wrong?” or “What did I miss?” when we worked together during workshops. My “thinking face” made them feel judged, which is obviously not a good thing. Here are a few ways to fix the problem.

The first step is to analyze your “thinking face.” What do you do? (I tend to squint, furrow my brow, and purse my lips.) When do you do it? During meetings? While presenting? When listening to others present? (My “thinking face” comes out the most when I’m listening to someone else speak.)

Once you are aware of what you do and when you do it, you can work to soften it. When I’m facilitating or listening to someone else present, I periodically check in with myself. Is my face scrunched up or tense? If the answer is yes, here is what I do:

  • I relax the muscles in my face.
  • I smile. It doesn’t have to be a huge grin – just a slight smile will do.
  • I open my eyes wider and slightly raise my eyebrows (“smile” with my eyes).

This makes me appear pleasant and receptive instead of critical and mad. Does it feel natural? Not really. But I don’t want to make other people feel uncomfortable or that I am criticizing them, so it’s worth the extra effort. And it does get easier (and a little more natural) the more I do it.

My final piece of advice is to be open about having a “thinking face.” If someone catches me giving them a stern look, I casually apologize, use it as an opportunity to laugh, and explain that it’s just my “thinking face.” It lightens the mood and lets them know it is not a reflection on them. Next time they notice it, they won’t jump to a negative conclusion.

A “thinking face” can give people the wrong impression of you or even shut down a productive conversation. Being aware, softening or brightening your facial expressions, and explaining yourself will help counteract any negative feelings it may cause.

By Sarah Stocker, Trainer and Workshop Coordinator 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

I have been told I should gesture less. What do you think?

December 14, 2010 in Author, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, Engaging Listeners, FAQs, Mary Clare Healy, Video

Question:
I’ve been told I should gesture less. What do you think?

Answer:
People often ask us whether they’re gesturing too much when they present. And typically, the answer is no.

Watch Mary Clare Healy from Turpin Communication answer the question in more detail in this video blog entry.

Related posts:

Hands on Hips – OK or Not? by Greg Owen-Boger

Are Hands in Pockets OK? by Greg Owen-Boger

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

Should a Presenter Read from the Slides?

March 31, 2010 in Author, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, FAQs, Greg Owen-Boger, Mary Clare Healy, Myths Debunked, Presentation, Video

On our Facebook fan page (www.facebook.com/TurpinCommunication) we recently asked our fans to “name something that a presenter does (or doesn’t do) that distracts you from hearing/understanding the speaker’s message.”

Most of the responses had something to do with presenters reading their slides. While I agree that it’s distracting when someone lifelessly reads a slide full of long sentences or paragraphs, I disagree with the notion that one should never read what’s on the slide.

As I write this, I can almost hear your audible gasp.

Let me explain.

When a slide first comes up, it is second nature for people to look at it to grasp its meaning. At that moment if you start to talk, you would be pulling your listeners’ attention in two different directions. Are they to read the slide or are they to listen to you? Trying to be good audience members they’ll try to do both. And they will not fully succeed at either.

Conversely, as a presenter, you may not succeed because you will have lost control of their focus, which can lead to confusion.

So, as presenter then, you need to help them grasp your topic by directing their focus either to the slide or to what you’re saying. One easy and effective way of doing that is to read the slide when it first appears. Literally turn to it and read what’s there without any comment. (Yes, your back will be to the audience, but who cares? Your listeners are looking at your slide, not your bum.) Then turn from it, move closer to your audience and launch into what you have to say about what’s on the slide.

Now, I know you’re probably thinking that this won’t work. And you’d be right if the slide was full of text. That’s why it’s so important for slides to be pared down to the bare minimum.

Remember that the slides are not your presentation. You (and what you have to say) are the presentation. Use your slides not as a script but as a framework to keep your discussion orderly.

My colleague, Mary Clare Healy, has a video blog saying roughly the same thing.

by Greg Owen-Boger, VP 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

Should I Apologize for Bad Slides?

January 15, 2009 in Author, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, FAQs, Greg Owen-Boger, Improving Your Visual Aids, Preparation, Presentation

Question:
I’m stuck having to present some pretty bad slides.  They are too complicated and present more information than I need for my presentation.  I can’t change them for a lot of reasons that I won’t go into here.  I’ve heard that you shouldn’t apologize for things like this by saying something like, “I know this is hard for you all to see,” but in this case I feel like I should.  What do you recommend?

Answer:
You’re not alone.  A lot of people are stuck having to present difficult, overloaded or poorly thought out slides.

You face two distinct challenges.  (1) As you prepare, you have to weed through the clutter and find the story you want to tell, and (2) you have to find a way to deliver that story – and have it make sense to your listeners – when the slide isn’t giving you much help.  Here are a few recommendations.

Challenge 1: Weed through the clutter
I’m afraid I can’t be of much help with this part of the dilemma, other than to encourage you to keep the big picture in mind.  Find the story you want to tell and stick with it.  You don’t have to talk about all the details on the slide if they don’t support your message.

Challenge 2: Help your listeners
When a busy slide comes up, your listeners’ eyes will go to it and try to figure it out.  Ideally they should be able to look at the slide and get a pretty clear understanding of it.  But if the slide is too complicated, they’re likely to give up.  Your job, then, is to help them through it.

  • Use the slide title
    If the title of the slide frames your story, use it to your advantage.  “As this title says, this is the sales forecast for Q3,” or “As you can see, we’re looking at the new workflow for project X.”
  • Acknowledge instead of apologize
    In your question you asked if it was appropriate to apologize.  First, I don’t think you’re breaking any sacred rule by apologizing for a difficult slide.  But moderation is key.  If you end up apologizing too much, your efforts won’t mean much.  Try shifting your thinking a bit.  Instead of apologizing for a busy slide, acknowledge it instead.  Use phrases like, “I know there’s a lot on this slide. I’d like to pull your attention to the upper right corner” or “Let’s focus right here,” as you point to that specific area on the screen.
  • Use triggers
    If you can, add triggers to direct attention to specific areas on the slide.  Triggers are things like arrows, circles or bold words.  Triggers tell your listeners that even though there’s a lot on the slide, you’re going to focus their attention on certain parts it.
  • Print handouts
    If listeners can’t see the detail on the screen, print the slide and give it to them as a handout.

In summary, you’re responsible for making sure listeners understand your message.  Even when you’re handed a difficult slide, do what you can to make sure that happens.

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