A New Definition of Success

June 30, 2014 in Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Nervousness, Presentation, The Orderly Conversation, Training

Why a Performance Approach to Business Presentations Doesn’t Work

greg_owen_boger_300Presentations should not be confused with speeches. Speeches are a type of performance. Presentations are a type of conversation. That’s why we’ve redefined them as “Orderly Conversations.”

Unfortunately, many people, even industry experts, hang on to the idea that a presentation should be “performed,” that it can be perfected by scripting, rehearsing, planning when and how to gesture, and following rules. These rules can be about all kinds of things, like the “right” number of bullets, never looking at your slides, holding your hands a certain way, or pausing for dramatic purposes.

As Dale Ludwig writes in chapter 5 of our new book The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined: “When rules like these are applied without consideration of their effectiveness or appropriateness for an individual, they stop being the means to an end and become the end themselves. This makes presenting more difficult for the presenter and less effective for the audience.”

Three Types of Performers
What we’ve seen is that business presenters who follow a performance approach generally fall into three categories:

  1. The Nervous Perfectionist
  2. The Dutiful Student
  3. The Entertainer

Let’s take a look at the negative consequences of each type of performer and offer up a better way forward.

The Nervous Perfectionist
In the book, we write about Jennifer, a Nervous Perfectionist. She puts an extraordinary amount of time into planning her presentation and rehearses it several times before the big day. Her goal is to perfect her delivery.

Unfortunately, during her last presentation, Jennifer felt like a failure because things didn’t go as she’d planned. Her solution was to rehearse more the next time.

Jennifer’s assumptions look like this:
A New Definition of Success pic 1 6-30-14

Dale writes: “As Jennifer moved through each of these steps, she assumed she was gradually taking control over the process. But it didn’t work. What happened to Jennifer actually looks like this.”
A New Definition of Success pic 2 6-30-14

Dale goes on: “As you can see, Jennifer’s nervousness led her to rehearse, which turned her presentation into a performance. This made her more self-conscious and more nervous. Her decision to rehearse more for the next presentation just repeats the cycle.”

The Dutiful Student, a New Definition of Success and a True Story
Another type of performance-focused presenter is what we call the Dutiful Student. Dutiful Students want rules they can follow. After all, their thinking goes, there must be a better and worse way to do something. Give me rules and I’ll follow them.

Last week in a workshop, we met Sandra (not her real name). She is a Subject Matter Expert and accidental trainer. Several times she asked, “What’s the rule for… “

As proof of her allegiance to the “prepare, prepare, prepare” rule, she pulled out a three ring binder containing her training slide deck. Each slide, complete with script in the speaker notes, was laminated for safekeeping.

We asked her how long it takes her to get ready to actually deliver the training. She said with a sigh, “Weeks and weeks. It’s far too time-consuming, and I have a lot of other responsibilities.” She was clearly frustrated by this.

When we asked her how she felt when learners asked questions, she said she hated it because it pulls her out of her script. “I have to think a lot when I’m up there. If they interrupt me it just throws me off.”

As the discussion went on, Sandra and her classmates agreed that her process is inefficient and didn’t create the conditions for fruitful learning. In Sandra’s attempt to follow rules and perfect the delivery of her training, she lost sight of her goal, which was to teach, to inspire learning.

Create the Conditions for a Fruitful Conversation
We worked with Sandra to help her create the conditions for a fruitful conversation. The first step was to turn her focus away from herself and toward her learners. She needed to get out of her head and actually speak with them.

During the first exercise in class, Sandra’s instruction was to introduce herself to the group and to engage them in a conversation about her job responsibilities. After several attempts, she finally settled into the conversation. She actually saw them and their reactions. She responded to them in the “here and now.” They asked questions, and Sandra answered them with ease.

This exercise was recorded on video. As she and I watched it a little later she said, “I forgot about thinking, and just did it! I just talked with them.” She was amazed that she could actually stand in front of the group and hold a conversation. She wasn’t thinking about her gestures, or even what to say. She was engaged in the here and now of the conversation, and it came naturally to her.

As we continued to talk, she made a connection that will stick with her well into the future. She said, “You know … as I think about it, I do my best teaching at the bar after my sessions. Now that I know why that is, I have a new definition of success!”

The Entertainer
In the book, we also talk about Sophia, an Entertainer. The character of Sophia was inspired by a young man (we’ll call him Calvin) that I worked with years ago. He was in sales and approached his sales presentations as if he were a comedian on a stage.

Calvin had a larger than life personality, a toothy smile, and a presentation style to go with it. I remember he swaggered to the front of the room and asked if we were ready. When we said yes, he snapped into action. It was as if the spotlight had just been turned on.

I remember that Calvin’s boss caught me in the hall that day and invited me into his office for a chat. As it turned out, Calvin’s job was on the line. His buyers weren’t buying, and none of his co-workers wanted to work with him. Calvin was over the top and perceived as phony. Not exactly the type of person most people want to work with or buy from.

So What Does This Mean for You?
Dale writes: “The lure of the performance approach is control; presenters use it because they assume success comes from planning exactly what they are going to say and how they will say it in advance of the presentation. This also means, their thinking goes, that success can be reached fairly easily because all they have to do is remember the plan and follow the rules. The danger is that exercising this level of control over the process pulls your focus away from the here and now of the conversation and leads, for many people, to increased nervousness and heightened self-consciousness.”

The more effective and efficient way to prepare for and deliver your presentations is to think of them as Orderly Conversations. Your role, then, is to prepare for and lead a listener-focused, flexible and responsive conversation. And when you do, it will make all the difference.

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

The Orderly Conversation is now available at Amazon.com

More About When and How to Ask Questions During Your Presentations

April 1, 2014 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Introduction, Meetings, Presentation, Training

The article we shared on Facebook last week, Do you really expect me to respond to that?, sparked a question from Barbara.

Hey Dale, could we have a post soon on questions that aren’t manipulative? That is, how/when to place a question that helps you gauge your audience and gather information? For example, “How many of you switched to the new software at least a year ago? Within the last six months? Haven’t switched yet?” I can see that the information could be useful to the presenter in tailoring their talking points, but I can also see it as kind of annoying. So, best practices?

Barbara’s question is a good one for anyone who has ever gathered—or attempted to gather—information from audience members during a presentation or training session. As she points out, learning more about your audience’s knowledge or perspective really does help you tailor the information you’re delivering to their needs.

The challenge is to gather information in a way that doesn’t squander the audience’s good will.dale_ludwig_hi-res_color

Before I list a few best practices for this type of interaction, let me emphasize the fundamental issue involved: when you ask your audience to take an active role in the conversation, by answering a question or participating in a discussion, you are asking them to do you a favor.

In some situations, you are also asking them to take a risk. For example, “How many of you are struggling with the new software?” may be a question people may not want to respond to in public. They may fear they are the only person struggling or maybe they have been avoiding the new software for months and would rather not admit it.

Gathering information, then, needs to be managed in a way that makes the audience feel they are participating in a safe, necessary, and fruitful discussion. They need to believe you have done your homework, there is a reason they should respond, and you respect their time and effort.

Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Earn the right to ask for participation. As I said in my previous post, don’t begin with a question. Create context and establish the right tone first.
  • Explain why you need information from them. Will it make the conversation better? More efficient? Quicker?
  • Acknowledge that by responding to you, the group is helping you do your job. Just because they came to the meeting doesn’t mean they are ready to respond to your questions. Make it easy for them and be genuinely appreciative.
  • Don’t condescend. If all you’re doing is fishing for the “right” answer to a question, you’re misusing the interactive process and treating adults like children. This often happens during training sessions. The questions you ask should not feel like a test. Instead, they should lead to deeper understanding. For example, instead of saying, “Okay, so we’ve gone over the four steps necessary for this process to work. Who can remind the group what they are?” it’s better to say, “Does everyone feel comfortable with these four steps? If so, we’ll move on. If not, how can I help you be more comfortable?”
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, use the information you gather to shape the rest of the conversation. If you don’t, you’re not only wasting an opportunity, but you’re also disrespecting the effort the audience made to participate.

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

Work the Virtual Room

March 14, 2014 in Author, Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Meetings, Virtual

To guard against sounding tired or uninspiring when leading a virtual session, I always recommend standing whenever possible. Being on your feet allows you to move around the room, keep your energy up and your voice bright.

As you can see in this photo, taken during a session I led for Training Magazine Network called Virtual Presentations that Work: Breakthrough to Engage Clients and Staff, I have the room set-up to help me stay on my toes during the session.

In the photo, you can see I’m wearing a phone headset and there are three computer screens. I’m logged in as a presenter on the laptop to my left. The big screen TV on the wall, which I look at most of the time, is projecting the same thing. The computer on the right is logged in as a participant, which gives me a sense of how much lag I’m dealing with.

The flipchart directly behind the laptop on the left is for my notes—used mostly to help me remember key information:Work the Virtual Room

  • The name of the session (yes, that’s something I might forget).
  • The names of my hosts.
  • A couple key phrases and leading questions, should I need them.
  • The time I need to be done.

You can also see that I have a hard copy of my presentation on the conference room table behind me. It’s there just in case something goes wrong with the technology and I have to wing it.

You may not have the luxury of a private room when presenting virtually, but I hope you’ll be able to borrow some ideas from this approach.

What ideas do you have for staying energetic and working the Virtual Room?

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

Deliver Answers to Everyone in the Room

April 30, 2012 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Facilitation, Video

In this video blog Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication, discusses the reasons presenters should direct their answers to everyone in the group during Q&A.

How Do I Not Sound Scripted When Delivering Content Multiple Times?

February 20, 2012 in Author, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, Engaging Listeners, FAQs, Greg Owen-Boger, Managing the Orderly Conversation, Myths Debunked, Practice Does Not Make Perfect, Preparation, Presentation


greg 200x300Q: I deliver the same information over and over. I know that I sound scripted, but I don’t know what to do about it. Any ideas?

A: I can relate. I used to be an actor. I toured one show – playing the same character – for a year and a half. Talk about saying the same thing repeatedly!

I continue to face this same issue as a trainer, although it requires an entirely different set of skills to sound spontaneous in the classroom than it did on stage.

There are two important things to keep in mind.

1) Presenters should not be scripted because presentations are not theatre. They are “Orderly Conversations” that need to be initiated and managed, not recited or performed.

2) Each audience is a unique group. While your content may be the same, your audience members aren’t. They each have a different set of assumptions and experiences as well as varying degrees of understanding of your topic. This means that you need to make sure you’re explaining concepts to each group in a fresh way. One that meets their needs, not the needs of last week’s group.

Here are a few ideas to help you keep things fresh and specific for each group:

  • Get them talking. Ask them about their experiences with your topic, positive or negative. Ask them about their level of interest. I speak at conferences quite a bit and I have no way of knowing beforehand who’s going to be in the audience. This technique helps me get a better understanding of where their interests lie so I can put more emphasis on them during the presentation. Sometimes I even ask them what order they’d like me to go in.
  • Actively look for peoples’ reactions to what you’re saying. When you do this, you’ll respond naturally just as you do in everyday conversation.
  • Encourage people to ask you questions throughout the presentation. Since you can’t predict what questions they’ll ask (or how the question will be phrased), you’ll be forced to explain ideas in a new way to meet the questioner’s unique point of view.
  • Reorder your slides so that you don’t know for sure what slide is next. This won’t work for everyone, but if you’re brave enough to try it, you’ll appreciate how well it keeps you on your toes.

Try one or more of these ideas, you’ll be surprised how fresh your presentation sounds and feels. The added bonus for you is that you won’t be bored.

What other ideas do you have for keeping stale content fresh?

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

Please Don’t Hold Your Questions

January 23, 2012 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, FAQs, Handling Questions, Managing the Orderly Conversation, Myths Debunked

I like to ask people to hold their questions until the end of my presentation. I don’t like being interrupted, and waiting until I’m finished to answer questions just feels more efficient. What do you think?”

You should probably get used to interruptions and give up delaying them.

There are really only two reasons to delay questions until the end:

  1. When you’re running out of time, and you absolutely have to finish the presentation regardless of whether you answer everyone’s question, or
  2. When there’s a message-related reason to delay. A message-related reason occurs when your audience will be much better able to ask questions after they’ve heard a certain amount of information.

If either of these situations occur, feel free to delay questions. Just be sure to tell your audience why you’re doing so.

These situations are relatively rare, though. So most of the time, you’ll need to accept the interruption. Think of it as an indication that your audience is interested in what you’re saying. By asking their questions, they’re helping you get your message across.

Also keep in mind that what feels efficient to you may not feel efficient to your listeners. What they might be feeling is confusion or frustration because they’ve been asked to hold their questions.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication

Common Presentation Challenges

October 28, 2010 in Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Myths Debunked, Nervousness, Preparation

Greg Owen-Boger, Vice President of Turpin Communication

In a LinkedIn discussion recently a question came up about the most common challenges facing business presenters.

Many people claimed nervousness, lack of knowledge, unexpected questions, PowerPoint, sentence structure (?) and so on. These are challenges people face, for sure, but these simplistic responses fail to get to the heart of why presenting is so challenging for so many people.

Here’s how I responded:

As a presentation skills trainer/coach, I think one of the most common challenges people face is that they prepare for a speech instead of a presentation. Speeches are scripted, rehearsed and performed. Presentations (which is what most of us deliver day-to-day) need to, of course, be organized well, but they need to be delivered in a flexible, spontaneous, conversational way.

So the challenge I see most is that people know how to prepare for a speech, but they don’t know how to prepare for a presentation. This leads to anxiety, nervousness, analysis paralysis and boring, stiff, unengaging and unsuccessful presentations.

In our work, we help presenters make adjustments to how they think about the process and this makes all the difference.

Faithful readers of this blog know that we consider presentations to be Orderly Conversations. Here are some related articles:

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