Science Says Eye Contact is Crucial

February 1, 2016 in Barbara Egel, Delivery, Facilitation, Meetings, Myths Debunked, Presentation

barbara_egel_132_BWThe January/February issue of Scientific American MIND (may require a subscription) has a whole spread (pp 8-9) on eye contact: how long is effective, how it affects us physiologically, and how it works in conversation. I’m happy to report that the science backs up what we at Turpin Communication have been teaching for years in our presentation skills workshops. Scientist Alan Johnson notes, “Gaze conveys that you are an object of interest, and interest is linked to intention.” Can you see how this kind of interest draws your audience into participating in your presentation? And can you see why tips like, “look at the tops of their heads,” is not nearly as effective? [Tweet “”I’m happy to report that the science backs up what we have been teaching.” #eyecontact”]

Engagement with your audience is the key factor in ensuring that they trust you, that they pay attention, and that you pick up signals when they are confused, questioning, or enthusiastic. Tom Foulsham, another of the scientists cited, talks about “this kind of dance people do” as they exchange eye contact in conversations. I would extend that metaphor to say that if you are the presenter, you are the lead dancer, and the more deftly you manage the conversation through eye contact, the more your audience will follow your lead. [Tweet “”Engagement with your audience is the key factor in ensuring that they trust you.” #presentations”]

Check out what Dale Ludwig, Turpin’s President and Founder, and the Minnesota State Senate have to say about eye contact.

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

Information overload: How to avoid it when presenting to leadership

December 14, 2015 in Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Meetings, Preparation, Presentation

information overload 12-14-15You’re a detail-oriented person working in a highly technical position. You probably wonder how much detail you should go into when presenting to managers and leaders. You may even have been asked not to go into information overload again.

You’re not alone. This is a topic that comes up a lot in our presentation skills workshops.

First, let’s acknowledge that you’re in this position because your strengths lie in your attention to detail and technical nit-pickery. That’s great, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a natural at communicating higher-level information about what the details mean to the business or the decision that’s being made as a result of the details.

So, just how much detail should you go into? It depends on a lot of factors, but here are two concepts to keep in mind.

Focus on what the details mean to the business, not just the details themselves
When you’re presenting detail-heavy or technical information, keep the big picture in mind. Make the conversation be about what the details mean to the business, rather than what the details are. For example, imagine you’re a financial analyst. You’re presenting the quarterly review to leadership. Your focus should go to the quarter’s key metrics and how they compare to the previous quarter, not the raw numbers by themselves.[Tweet “When presenting, focus on what the details mean, not just the details themselves.”]

Help your audience make a decision
Technical people often present to managers and leaders when there’s a decision to be made. Ask yourself, “How much information will they need in order to make the decision?” Your answer to that question should guide the way. For example, if they’re trying to decide how much capital to hold in reserve for the coming month, you don’t need to go into what all of the upcoming expense are going to be, rather your focus should go to the bottom line figures. If they want detail, they’ll ask.

Don’t get me wrong, the details are important. Without analysis and attention to the details, business would grind to a halt. So always keep in mind that leadership pays you to do two things. The first is to work with the details so that they don’t have to. The second is to make sense of the details so that they can do their jobs.

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

We Are Not the PowerPoint Police

January 12, 2015 in Author, Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Myths Debunked, Preparation, Presentation, Training

PowerPointPoliceBannerPeople often ask us about the rules for PowerPoint. Some examples include, “What’s the rule for …

  • the number of bullets on a slide?”
  • the number of words per bullet?”
  • the number of slides a presentation should have?”
  • the right font to use?”
  • the right size font to use?”

We also hear apologies like these:

  • “I know this is a lousy slide, but I didn’t have time to fix it.”
  • “You’re going to hate this slide, but my manager requires this format.”
  • “Sorry this is such a busy slide, but …”

Our response is always this:

Relax. We’re not the PowerPoint Police.

When we say this in our presentation skills workshops, there are two typical responses.

  1. Puzzlement. It’s as if we can hear the person thinking, “Come on. You’re the presentation expert. You should have rules about PowerPoint!”
  2. Relief. “Oh, thank goodness. Those rules about PowerPoint never made any sense to me.”

It’s true we’re presentation experts; and it’s also true that many of the rules out there don’t make any sense.

We’re not saying that there aren’t basic design guidelines that can enhance the design of a slide. What we are saying is that there are no hard-and-fast rules that must always be followed.


Because life isn’t that simple.

Imagine Walt Disney in a meeting where he had to present the 7 Dwarfs concept via PowerPoint. Unfortunately for Walt, some trainer had told him years ago that he could never have more than 6 bullets per slide. What’s he to do? Split them up onto separate slides? That doesn’t make any sense. Instead, he needs to be a pragmatist, ignore the rule, and list all 7 dwarfs together on one slide. (He could use just their pictures, but that assumes he’d remember their names. That’s a dangerous assumption if Walt’s experiencing nervousness that day.)

But, less is more, right?

Generally speaking, less is more when it comes to PowerPoint, but if following a rule gets in the way of quality communication, it’s a lousy rule and must be set aside.[Tweet “If following a rule gets in the way of quality communication, it’s a lousy rule”]

So what do you recommend?

We like to think of PowerPoint as a tool to provide structure and to trigger the presenter’s thoughts. You are your presentation, not the slides. Use them to guide you through the presentation, rather than BEING the presentation. It will make your life easier. It will make the task of following you easier as well.

We’ve blogged and vlogged about these concepts several times over the years. Follow this link to read more.

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

Applying Presentation Skills to a Game of Charades

November 27, 2012 in Author, Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Presentation

greg 200x300Last Thursday I spent Thanksgiving Day with family and friends. After the over-the-top dinner (prepared by my good friend Olive) had been devoured and dishes were done, family and friends retired to the living room to play a game similar to Charades. Hilarity ensued, of course. But I wasn’t doing very well when it came to helping my teammates accumulate points.

Each time I got up in front of the group, I became nervous and self-conscious. At one point I was trying to act out “cannon.” My head was foggy, I couldn’t think and I was getting nowhere. All I could think to do was light a match and cover my ears. No surprise they couldn’t guess correctly. I did very little to help them understand what I was doing.

After that round, I sat there thinking about not being a very good player. What was I doing wrong? I used to be an actor for Pete’s sake! I should be able to nail this.

Then it occurred to me. I had been internally focused. I dove in without a plan and didn’t give my teammates any context. I did not invite them into my world or try to make it easy for them to understand what I was doing. I’m not even sure I looked at them. I certainly don’t remember seeing their faces.

And THIS is exactly what happens to nervous presenters. A-Ha! I needed to follow Turpin’s advice.

So, leading up to my next turn I reminded myself to breathe and think and look my teammates in the eye. My first responsibility was to provide context, then tell the story. I know this stuff. I teach it all the time in our presentation skills workshops.

“Here goes,” I thought as I chose the card containing the word I’d soon have to act out. And the word was … “stripper.” Yup. Stripper. Oh dear.

I took a deep breath and thought about how to provide context. With my plan in place, I looked at my teammates. I put on a seductive grin, and lifted an eye brow. Then I started swaying to the music in my head. Next I unbuttoned a button on my shirt. Then another. I mimed taking it off and swinging it around my head before tossing it into the room.

“Stripper!” Dan yelled.

(Thank you, Dan. I owe you. My next move would not have been pretty.)

So … lesson learned. Think. Breathe. Look people in the eye. Provide context.

And what do you know? Presentation skills CAN apply to situations other than the board room. I’ve been saying this for years. It’s good to know it’s actually true.

My team won, by the way.

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