Turpin Communication’s Culture – What We Stand For

November 29, 2016 in Author, Barbara Egel, Dale Ludwig, Greg Owen-Boger, Mary Clare Healy, News, Posts for Buyers, Sarah Stocker, Turpin’s Culture

Two recent events triggered the Turpin Team to discuss our culture, values, and generally what we, as an organization, stand for. It’s not that we don’t know who we are. We do. We live our values every day, but we never actually wrote them down … until now.


The Two Recent Events

  1. Greg Owen-Boger, VP Turpin CommunicationDale (Turpin’s Founder) and I attended an ATD regional conference in Chicago. Chris Yates, Chief Learning Officer at Caterpillar and coauthor of Rewire: A Radical Approach to Tackling Diversity and Difference, delivered the closing keynote. His message focuses on the notion that in order to achieve sustainable positive growth, leaders need to create a culture of openness, empathy and inclusion – which in turn enables corporate strategy and drives innovation. He also argues that living a culture of inclusion is simply the right thing to do. We agree.
  2. Dale and I were in a meeting with a new buyer. We’ve had a long-standing relationship with this organization for well over a decade, and this particular person had recently moved into a position to purchase our services. It was a lively get-to-know-you meeting. We’d been talking for about an hour when she asked the question. “What is Turpin’s culture?” As it happened, neither Dale nor I could answer this question very well. In that moment, we couldn’t find the words. All we could do was tell a few stories about how we encourage everyone to bring their most genuine, thoughtful, curious self to the work that we do. The client seemed satisfied, but we should have been able to address the question more directly.

These two events have made it clear to us that we should probably figure this out. It’s important to the company and our growth strategy, it’s important to us as individuals, and it’s also important to our clients.

Culture is More than Brand

In our workshops, we talk about how communication, both internal and external, can have an impact on both the individual’s brand as well as the organization’s. For example, if an organization wants to be perceived as highly professional and inclusive, its employees must communicate in a way that supports that brand promise. Dale and I discussed making our own list to describe how we want Turpin to be perceived, but that didn’t seem right. It seemed too top down and, frankly, that’s not who we are.

Turpin’s Culture as Described by Team Members

I shared our client’s culture question with Sarah Stocker, who is one of our Coaches and our Workshop Coordinator. She was able to answer immediately. That shouldn’t be surprising, I guess, since Sarah has been with us for eleven years.

That conversation with Sarah sparked an idea. Why not ask our team members to answer the question, “What is Turpin’s Culture?” So that’s what we did. After they submitted their thoughts, Dale wrote a piece in response. His take on our culture, which I completely embrace, is below. Sarah’s response is next, followed by submissions from other team members.

We hope you enjoy hearing from our amazing, and fiercely loyal team members.

 


Dale Ludwig, President of Turpin CommunicationDale Ludwig (President of Turpin Communication, Founded in 1992)

After hearing Chris Yates speak at the conference Greg mentioned, I read Rewire: A Radical Approach to Tackling Diversity and Difference. He and his coauthor, Pooja Sachdev, have written a great book. They build a strong case for diversity and inclusion without sugarcoating the personal responsibility each of us must take toward it. Here’s how they put it.

We need to purposely create a culture of equality, respect and inclusion, where our differences are not seen as a problem but as a competitive advantage: a quality that can be leveraged to enhance decision-making, problem-solving, creativity and innovation … It starts with a strong set of values.

As I read this book, I found myself tying what the authors said back to the work we do with our clients. We cannot deliver a successful workshop without creating a safe environment for each individual in it. In every class, we ask learners to be vulnerable. We ask them to try, possibly fail, and try again. We understand the commitment—sometimes the courage—that takes, and we do not take it lightly. To borrow from Yates and Sachdev, then:

We need to purposely create a learning environment of equality, respect and inclusion, where our differences are not seen as a problem but as a learning advantage … It starts with a strong set of values.

Based on what we heard from the Turpin team members, here is a list of our values.

culture-wordcloud-14finalQuality
We are committed to delivering the highest quality communication skills training and consulting in the industry. Our goal is to help people get business done as efficiently and effectively as possible. We do this by casting aside traditional thinking about business communication, building a new foundation, and focusing on results for each learner.

Safety
To reach our quality goal, our work must take place in a training environment that is safe and inclusive. While in the classroom, everyone must be free to be themselves, to ask questions, to fail and try again without judgment. Every learner has the right to be heard and understood. They deserve our respect and empathy.

Trust
When we create a safe, inclusive, respectful, and results oriented learning environment, we earn the trust of each learner and the right to ask them to change and grow. Without their trust, we cannot succeed.

Passion
Everything we do is fueled by the passion we feel for our work. We care about our clients’ success and the work they do. We are curious and deeply committed to placing what we do within the context of every learner’s work environment.

As you can see from other Turpin team members, below, the culture we create in the training room shapes how we work together every day.


Sarah Stocker, Coach and Workshop Coordinator at Turpin CommunicationSarah Stocker (Coach and Workshop Coordinator, team member since 2005)

When Greg told me about the struggle to define Turpin’s culture, my mind went immediately to our tagline: “Find your focus. Be yourself. Only better.” I was part of the brainstorming session that produced this tagline many years ago. I like it because it rings true for two reasons. First, it’s what we try to achieve with our workshop participants and, second, it’s who we are as a company. We help those around us grow and be the best version of themselves when communicating at work. We do the same for each other.

When I talk about Turpin with my friends or family, I always describe it as the healthiest environment I’ve ever worked in. What makes it so healthy?

  • We work collaboratively. Everyone’s opinion is heard and respected. We have our own roles and hierarchy, but leadership recognizes the value that comes from mining ideas from the group.
  • We love diversity. We recognize that we all have our own perspective and preferred way of doing things. Instead of being threatened by differing opinions, we embrace them. We know that incorporating different perspectives can only make us stronger, as individuals and as a company.
  • We are transparent. There are no secrets within the company. There is trust between colleagues and leadership, and we all want what’s best for the company.
  • We recognize our strengths and our weaknesses without ego or shame. When any of us makes a mistake, we own it. We freely admit it and focus on how to solve it going forward. And no one shames you for it.
  • We are passionate, authentic, and empathetic. We are always striving to do better and to find new ways of serving our clients. At the same time, we stay true to ourselves and to what we do best. We genuinely care about each other and the workshop participants we are trying to help. We insist on keeping our training rooms a safe place where everyone can embrace their strengths and work against their weaknesses without embarrassment. Both internally and in our workshops, we build each other up so we can be our best selves.

What’s really interesting to me is that without consciously making this our goal, our culture is fully entrenched in everything we do as a company. If you were to attend a staff meeting or one of our workshops, you would see all of the values above at work. And that makes me proud to be a part of Turpin Communication. 


Dana Peters (Director of Sales, team member since 2013)

I thrive here because the “Turpin way” is an excellent fit for how I work. At this point in my career, I choose to only invest my time and talent in an environment where:

  • My contribution is valued and my opinion matters.
  • The behavior of the smart people around me matches the words that are spoken.
  • Doing things right and delivering a high quality product for clients is important and at the heart of everything.
  • Taking the time to understand what the client needs and building relationships is valued.
  • Fair and ethical business practices are a given and non-negotiable.
  • Everyone on the team is charged with a job and a set of responsibilities and then allowed to do what they need to do to get the work done. Micromanaging isn’t present, trust is.
  • I am involved, free to ask questions and communicate thoughts without having to choose my words.
  • A little respectful debate is welcome.
  • My commitment to my family and other things that are important to me are valued, respected, and never questioned; rather, they are encouraged and celebrated.

All of this adds up to an atmosphere in which I can contribute fully and effectively.


Mary Clare Healy, Facilitator and Coach at Turpin CommunicationMary Clare Healy (Facilitator and Coach, team member since 1996)

It has been so fun to think about this! For me, Turpin’s culture rests on three pillars, which provide the foundation for Turpin’s approach to client engagement and internal decision-making.

  1. Passion. Turpin facilitators not only enjoy what they do, they enjoy doing it together. And it shows. This is reflected in each encounter and every step of the process. It’s clear that for the Turpin team it’s not just a job, or about checking a box; rather, it’s about unleashing the best in each individual.
  2. Respect. The facilitative approach allows Turpin to dig deep to get to know our clients and each of the individuals involved with a particular project. We demonstrate respect and have earnest curiosity, which allows us to learn about what each person does and how they do it so that we can help them improve.
  3. Commitment to results. Turpin understands that there’s a bottom-line reason for clients to seek our services. It is this understanding that results in a pragmatic approach with no fluff or filler. The training programs are all about successfully reaching the goals that have been set.

These three observable behaviors are modeled by leadership as well as everyone within the Turpin organization.


Barbara Egel, Coach at Turpin CommunicationBarbara Egel (Facilitator, Coach, and Account Manager, team member since 2014)

For me, Turpin’s central idea is “keep it simple.” Every course we teach has this as a cardinal rule.

This approach also extends beyond the training room. Conversations about internal issues often ripple out in several directions, but all of us know the ultimate goal is to arrive at one targeted, even elegant, solution. Externally, I think clients feel this as well. By keeping it simple, we are able to fit in with a variety of corporate cultures, adjust to constraints that may be less than ideal, and fold in whatever is going on in the moment: an acquisition, a firing, a product launch, or just a bad day. We are not a day or two’s distraction taking up the conference room; we are a part of the client’s team ready to do our part in helping them meet their goals.

We also keep it genuine. The people you see at the front of the training room or in the coaching room are who we are 24/7. There are no wacky personas, no fake enthusiasms. For me, this is a huge aspect of building trust, and trust is key to learning, especially with emotionally-fraught tasks such as a business presentation. Similarly, having known Dale and Greg for decades, I can attest that who they are as my Turpin bosses reflects their real values, beliefs, and hopes, and this is the reason I trust them completely. It’s also the reason that if I have an idea to make something better, I offer it, knowing they will listen, consider, and respond appropriately.

In sum, a company built on a foundation of simplicity, effectiveness, and authenticity is one that doesn’t have to worry about juggling its image or covering its, um, assets. It’s also a philosophy immune to the influence of the latest corporate trends because it is beyond trend. The essence of Turpin today will be the essence of Turpin twenty years from now, and it will still seem revolutionary then.


Milena Palandech (Facilitator and Coach, team member since 2011)

Before Turpin Communication was founded, Dale Ludwig was a colleague, a mentor, and a dear friend. I admired Dale greatly (still do) because he cared deeply about the learners that participated in his training programs. Dale was different than most of my former colleagues. Far too many trainers I knew were focused on entertaining their learners and performing for higher class scores. Dale’s sole concern was the learner and helping each of them reach their goals. He didn’t need to shine. He simply wanted the learner to shine.

That selfless determination and focus – doing what is necessary to help Turpin’s clients and their client’s employees shine – has become a foundational principle at Turpin Communication. Dale and Greg have created an organization that is truly committed to helping people “be themselves … only better.” They ensure that the classroom environment for Turpin programs is a safe place where learners will be encouraged and challenged. They consistently draw out the very best in people.


Blaine Rada (Facilitator and Coach, team member since 2015)

I find what Turpin values to be unique and refreshing. In the crowded marketplace of communication skills training, Turpin doesn’t just provide a template for how to be a better communicator, but rather a personalized approach with the goal of helping people find and leverage their unique strengths. Their approach is challenging yet encouraging, respecting the dignity of each individual while focused on producing results.


Kevin Vogelsang (Operations Manager, team member since October 2016)

I’ve only been a member of Turpin Communication for a brief time. However, the feelings inspired during this time and the interactions I’ve experienced have had quite an impact, and have very much fortified my own beliefs and convictions.

I was a math major, and I have substantial anxiety when it comes to speaking. This made the prospect of an interview with Greg and Dale (two individuals with decades of experience in all manner of communication) more than a little daunting. Meeting them was such a pleasant experience though. The atmosphere during the interview was so welcoming that I felt immediately comfortable despite my previous dread and anxiety. It became immediately clear: I would be lucky to work for this company. To find a job anywhere else with similar openness and warmth would be nearly impossible.

As part of my training, I observed a presentation workshop. It was an excellent experience. I was barely involved in the process, yet I was blown away by everything that occurred. I felt connected to the participants, and I was engrossed as they practiced their presentations, improving from one attempt to the next. Dale and Greg created an environment where everybody cared about each other and their success.

After just two months of actually working for Turpin, it has been made clear that my initial perception of the company was correct. The team is genuinely caring and empathetic of each other and the clients. I am thankful to work in this type of environment, which is essential for my own personal happiness and well-being.

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

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”

9 Habits of Highly Effective Business Presenters

February 17, 2014 in Author, Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Presentation

A friend and fellow CCASTD board member sent this article to me, 9 Habits of Highly Effective Speakers, and asked what I thought.

If you don’t feel like reading the whole thing, here is a snapshot of the nine “habits.”

  1. They are authentic.
  2. They choose phrases carefully.
  3. They keep it short.
  4. They rewrite. And they rewrite some more.
  5. They build rapport.
  6. They tell stories.
  7. They organize.
  8. They practice.
  9. They learn from the masters.

These 9 ideas are terrific if (and this is a BIG IF) you are delivering a speech. The author of this piece is definitely talking about speeches. He says so right at the beginning of the piece. He mentions graduation addresses, TED talks, and the State of the Union.

Those are perfectly reasonable types of speeches to study. But when was the last time you actually delivered a speech?

It’s important not to confuse speechmaking with business presenting.

They are two very different forms of communication. Unfortunately, too many times they are lumped together, which is one of the reasons professionals struggle so mightily with their business presentations. They require a different set of skills and techniques. Speeches are written and read (or perhaps memorized) whereas presentations are initiated and facilitated.

They are also judged on different scales. Speeches are successful when they are well crafted. Business presentations are successful when they get business done in an efficient manner.

If you go back and look at the nine habits, they could be substituted as advice for writers. Again, good advice for speechmakers. Not so good for presenters.

You need something better.

So, here is our list.

9 Habits of Highly Effective Business Presenters:

  1. Engage your listeners in a conversation, don’t deliver a performance.
  2. Keep it about them, not about you.
  3. Speak spontaneously within the framework of your preparation.
  4. Design visuals to keep you on track and to spark the right thoughts during delivery.
  5. Bring visuals into the conversation to enhance, clarify, and support.
  6. Create the environment for a fruitful conversation.
  7. Pause to think and control knee-jerk reactions, even when emotion creeps in.
  8. Respect what others have to say.
  9. Look for clues that your audience understands, not just hears what you’re saying.

At Turpin Communication we don’t work with speeches. We work with everyday getting-business-done presentations. Or as we call them: Orderly Conversations. This redefinition will make all the difference for you. Hope this article sheds new light on the work that you do.

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

Wearing Two Hats: Facilitating Successful Meetings When You’re the Boss

August 19, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Facilitation

This article was originally published on MondoSpective.

Facilitating a group discussion always brings with it a unique set of challenges. Every group involves different personalities, perspectives, and needs. Facilitators have to work hard to create an environment in which a productive conversation can take place.

When the facilitator is also the boss, the process gets even more complicated. The atmosphere in the room will be affected by who you are. Inevitably, the people reporting to you will feel their response is being evaluated—even if you set up the discussion as a judgment-free brainstorming session. This will affect both how they respond and their willingness to participate.

While you can’t change who you are or your role in the organization, you can facilitate discussions with your team successfully. You just have to remind yourself that your responsibilities as facilitator are different than your responsibilities as manager.

Process vs. Content. The facilitator’s role is all about process. It’s not their job to add to or comment on that content. But it is their job to encourage participation and control the direction of the conversation. That requires two things: demonstrating trust in the individuals in the group and showing respect for their needs.

Demonstrating trust. A successful facilitator creates an environment in which information and ideas can be freely exchanged. That means that the individuals in the group need to feel their questions and comments are welcome. The level of participation from individuals in the audience will vary, of course. But what’s important is not equal participation from everyone, but equal opportunity for participation. So as a facilitator, you need to:

  • Be patient, curious, and unafraid to listen. Don’t waste the good will of the group by not listening, or glossing over nuance.
  • Demonstrate through your actions that all input can be useful. As a leader and manager, it’s often important to assess situations quickly. This is an asset in your daily responsibilities, but it can be a liability when facilitating. During a discussion it’s important to let ideas percolate a little.
  • Level the playing field by allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Remember, you’re the only person in the room who doesn’t feel a little vulnerable already.

Showing respect. The discussion you lead needs to be as efficient as possible. While the group wants to feel that they are free to contribute, they also want the conversation to achieve something. Because you are their manager, individuals might be reluctant to challenge your decisions as facilitator or point out that a topic has run its course. Here are some recommendations.

  • Do your homework. Respect the group’s time and energy by doing the work that’s required beforehand. This involves creating a framework for the conversation that communicates your goal, the problem you’re trying to solve, and what you expect from your reports during the discussion. This framework should be strong enough to keep things on track, but flexible enough to include unexpected turns in the conversation.
  • Remember that the framework exists to make participation easier for everyone. It should serve the conversation, not dominate it.
  • Appreciate the work the group is doing and the risks they’re taking.

Because you are the group’s manager as well as the meeting’s facilitator, there will be times when you’ll want to contribute to the content of the discussion as well. When you do, just acknowledge that you’ve taken your facilitator hat off. Say things like, “I can clear up that question for you, so allow me to speak now as your manager.”  When you’re finished contributing your manager perspective, put your facilitator hat back on.

Remember that the people involved in the discussion are your resource, just as they are when they’re going about their everyday responsibilities. When you’re facilitating, give them a safe, productive environment and the time they need to work through the ideas they’re sharing.

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

20-year Milestone for Turpin Communication

August 27, 2012 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Posts for Buyers

This week marks Turpin Communication’s 20th year in business. Although we’ve had 19 anniversaries leading up to this one, most of which have gone by unnoticed, this one feels different. This one feels like it needs to be acknowledged, even if it is only in this blog. So here it is.

First, I want to say a big thank you to two groups of people. To our clients, thanks for trusting us to deliver what you need. Whether you’re a buyer bringing us in to work with your team or a participant in one of our workshops, you’ve given us your time, invited us into your business life, and believed in us.

To the people who have been part of the Turpin team, thanks for your brains, talent and very hard work. These people are Greg Owen-Boger, Sarah Stocker, Mary Clare Healy, Karen Ross, Milena Palandech, Jeanne Cotter, Anne Linehan, Lora Alejandro, and Seth Kannof. Turpin has been very lucky to have all of you.

I started Turpin in 1992 with some very strong ideas about what presentation and facilitation skills training should be and a whole lot of questions about what makes a business successful. Since then, with the help of others, we’ve answered many of those questions. I can also say that there are a few things we got right from the beginning.

From a business perspective:

  • Stay focused on what you do better than anyone else. The temptation to branch out into other types of training, into areas we know less about and feel less confident delivering, has always been present. We’ve resisted and are better off because of it.
  • It’s okay to turn down work. Especially if success feels uncertain or the potential client feels like a bad fit.

In the training room:

  • The worst thing you can do in the training room is waste time. Respect the learner. Adapt to their individual needs. Keep the goal in mind. Be flexible. Never condescend.
  • Training is not meant to be fun, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time in class. You will never hear a Turpin trainer say, “Okay everyone, let’s shift gears a little bit and have some fun!” The work is first and foremost. When learners realize that you’re not going to waste their time, you earn their respect. When that happens, they relax, open up, and the process becomes not just fruitful but enjoyable as well.

What’s coming in the next 20 years?

  • We will continue to help business presenters plan and deliver their Orderly Conversations.
  • As new technologies emerge, we will continue to find the best way to successfully blend face-to-face and remote learning.
  • This year we rolled out Find Your Focus Video. This service is built on what we learned developing our own online courses. While this is brand new for us, it doesn’t break the “stay focused” maxim I mentioned above. Our tag line says it best: “Find your focus. Be yourself. Only better. (and now on video).” Learn more about it here.

So Happy Anniversary, Turpin Communication, and thanks again to everyone who has made it happen.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication

Helping Employees Gain Respect by Improving Their Communication

May 14, 2012 in Author, Delivery, FAQs, Greg Owen-Boger, Posts for Buyers, Preparation

 

greg 200x300As a communication consultant working with presenters, facilitators, and trainers, I have a lot of interesting conversations with business leaders about their employees.

The conversations may go something like this: “Greg, I know John is smart. He has great ideas and is always willing to put himself out there, but in meetings he doesn’t communicate clearly. He’s erratic, talks in circles, and apologizes for having an opinion. I’ve seen this happen a lot, and it’s causing his manager and peers to lose respect for him. How can you help me help him?”

Sometimes the conversations are like this: “When Mary and I talk in my office she’s confident and clear. But when she presents at meetings she falls to pieces. Mary is a high-potential employee, but her inability to speak to a group is holding her back. Can you help her?”

In both situations people have lost the respect of co-workers because of their poor communication skills.

Another scenario:
A few weeks ago I was working with a woman who is the Administrative Assistant to the CEO. “Jan” is roughly 50 years old, very well-dressed, and in charge.

At the beginning of the class, Jan participated fully in the conversation that I was facilitating. From the comfort of her seat she spoke up, listened attentively to the others, and responded clearly and confidently. She displayed a great sense of humor too.

But then things changed.

Later in the class we were doing an exercise in which everyone gets up in front of the room and introduces themselves to the group. Jan was last to volunteer. While this exercise always generates a few butterflies for people, Jan was a mess. She was very nervous and had tied herself into knots. She shifted her weight and looked down at the floor. Her voice was shaky, she became soft-spoken, and it sounded as if she were speed-reading through a script. Her sense of humor was gone. So was her personality.

Afterwards, she described herself as having just had an out-of-body experience.

When I asked her if she remembered seeing anyone’s face, she responded, “No, not at all.”
When I asked her if that was a common experience, she confessed, “Yes.”

Jan had turned her focus inward.

In her attempt to defend herself against the presence (or even the hint) of nervousness, she made the situation worse. Much worse. She forgot that she was speaking to real people, turned her focus inward, and had a complete meltdown. Suddenly she was not the articulate, confident person I met earlier, but someone else entirely.

Jan’s experience is not unique.

If you’ve ever experienced anything like that (and who hasn’t) you know it’s real. And it’s debilitating.

The good news is that debilitating nervousness is not a permanent condition. In the brief time we had together, Jan learned to speak as clearly and confidently to the group as she normally does in low-stakes conversations.

The key is to think of presentations as conversations that are taking place with real people in real time.

When Jan was nervous, she was speaking in a vacuum—unaware of her listeners and focusing solely on what she had planned to say. My solution was for her to turn her focus outward and speak to the individuals in the room. She needed to look people in the eye and actually SEE them. She needed to recognize their reactions and see how they were responding to her. When she did that, she was able to connect and respond.

The level of engagement that Jan achieved—something that happens automatically in everyday, low-stakes conversations—plays a crucial role in presentations. Although the people in the room are the cause of nervousness, presenters should not think of them as passive viewers whose sole responsibility is to judge. Presentations, like everyday conversations, are an exchange of information that can’t ever be perfect. When presenters focus on engaging their listeners, they’re able to break through the barrier of nervousness, turn their focus outward, and manage the process. This, in turn, makes them feel (and look) comfortable, confident, and in control.

Jan did that, and her improvement was astonishing. She became a person who would be respected in any presentation situation.

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