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

Presentation Myth: Simple Slides are Always Better

June 10, 2014 in Author, Greg Owen-Boger, Myths Debunked

A recent workshop participant said, “I don’t want to simplify this slide. The abundance of the data is where the story is.”

Simple Slides are Always Better 6-9-14

As his coach, I cannot argue with that. This is exactly why those one-size-fits-all rules about the number of bullets or words on a slide don’t work.

Admittedly, sometimes less is more. (And we do help our clients simplify their slides and their message when necessary.) But as this workshop participant said, sometimes the message is better communicated through lots of data.

Slide Vs. Handout
The slide pictured here would be, admittedly, a lousy visual aid if it were projected onto a screen. It’s too busy and would be hard to read, so in cases such as this, be sure to include a hard copy of the slide so that people can read and study it as part of your presentation.

I encourage you to think critically about the rules you’ve heard about slide design and business presentations. As Dale Ludwig, Turpin’s founder, often says, “If a slide doesn’t help you move the conversation forward, it’s a lousy visual aid.”

What “rules” for presenting do you break?

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

Rethinking the Visual Component of Your Presentations (Part 1 of 4)

August 5, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Preparation, Presentation

Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

We need a new way to talk about the visual component of business presentations. I didn’t use the term “visual aids” to describe this part of the process for a reason. That term, one that has been around long enough to have been applied to everything from a flip chart to a 35 mm slide to an overhead transparency and now PowerPoint slides, is losing its usefulness.

It’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with the term. It’s just that “visual aids” are associated with the following universally accepted best practices, all of which need to be reexamined in light of today’s presentations.

  1. Your slides are visual aids. Their role is subordinate to the presenter.
  2. Visuals must be simple and communicate their message quickly.
  3. Graphics are better than words.
  4. Bullet points are boring.
  5. Never, ever project an “eye chart” (a detailed slide with words and numbers too small for the audience to read).

Don’t get me wrong. There is truth to be found in each of these statements. But it’s only partial truth—not true in all situations and not true all the time.

We see this in every workshop we deliver. Business presenters use—and use well—a broad range of visual support in their presentations. When we work with them, they always assume that we’re going to condemn any slide that breaks any of the standard rules. “Sorry, I know this is a complicated slide …” or “Now I know you’re not going to like this, but I need to project this spreadsheet because …”

We tell these presenters to relax. We aren’t the PowerPoint Police. We aren’t going to confiscate their slides. What we will do is help them figure out the best way to communicate the information that needs to be communicated. Sometimes that has to do with simplifying or altering the slide. Sometimes it has more to do with how the slide is explained during delivery.

What would make this process easier for everyone is a better way to think about all the different types of visuals we use. We need to answer questions like these:

  1. As you know, we define presentations as Orderly Conversations. We need to ask how the slides you use contribute to the process. Do they bring order to or are they the subject of the conversation?
  2. Does the information or data on the slide exist outside the presentation, as a sales report, financial report, marketing data, or flow chart, for example? Or was the slide created specifically for this presentation?
  3. Is the slide meant to bring emphasis or emotion to the presentation?

In the next three posts, I’ll focus on these questions.

Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

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

My Mother’s Attic Part 3: The Elocutionists, a Cautionary Tale

July 16, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Myths Debunked, Talent Development

Part 1, Part 2

This is the final article about the perils of business presenters following the same path as the elocutionary movement.

The great thing about The Ideal Orator is that its approach, from our twenty-first-century perspective, is completely over the top. Anyone reading this book today would recognize its unnatural exaggeration of delivery behaviors, its focus on how a message should be delivered apart from what that message is.

What the book helps us see, though, is something much more subtle. Whenever a prescriptive approach is applied to something as individual and spontaneous as business presentations, we run into trouble.

Here’s what I mean.

  1. The Orderly Conversation that should take place between you and your listeners becomes a performance. Performances are very controlled things. They are not driven by the connection between you and your audience. Instead, they are driven by the plan that was made in advance. When you perform, you take yourself out of the conversation.
  2. The search for the rules governing the presentation process is a perfectly understandable thing. Rules make things easier. The thing is, presenters need to discover their own rules, not follow the rules for someone else. The rules you follow are determined by who you are and the habits you’ve developed. When you follow rules that aren’t right for you, you will feel and look uncomfortable. Maybe not as uncomfortable as the kids in my mother’s elocution classes, but uncomfortable nevertheless.
  3. When business presenters deliver a performance or attempt to follow one-size-fits-all rules, they undercut their ability to make decisions in the moment. If you’ve participated in one of our workshops, you know that engaging listeners is one of the most important processes we work on. When you’re engaged everything you do is a response to what’s happening with your audience.

As you know, Turpin’s tag line is “Find your focus. Be yourself. Only better.” So the next time you’re looking for rules governing delivery, make sure you’re focusing on what works for you, what helps you feel comfortable, and what gives you the control you need to manage the twists and turns of the Orderly Conversation.

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

My Mother’s Attic Part 2: When the Rules Take Over

July 9, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Myths Debunked, Presentation, Talent Development

Part 1, Part 3

As I mentioned in the first article on this topic, I stumbled upon an old elocution textbook among a pile of books that were about to be hauled away from my mother’s house. It was published in 1895, at the tail end of elocutionary movement’s popularity. While the movement began as a way to improve the delivery of lawyers and religious leaders, at this point it had evolved to focus on the performance of literary passages in schools.

My mother hated the classes she took in school because they required a very specific type of delivery, one based on following strict and, from her perspective and from ours, pretty silly rules. For example, there are rules for how shoulders should be used to express extreme joy or hate. Rules about communicating anger by clenching your fists. Elbows turned out indicates self-assertion. Here’s a passage describing how a performer should stand when “no particular emotion is expressed,” a sort of neutral position, I guess.

Stand with one foot a little in advance of the other with the weight of the body resting on the advanced foot, the left arm hanging easily at the side, and the right hand extended toward the audience, the first finger straight, and the others slightly curved, with the palm slightly exposed. (from The Ideal Orator and Manual of Elocution, John Wesley Hanson, Jr. and Lillian Woodward Gunckel, editors, pages 24 and 25)

As odd as all the rules in this book are, there’s something to be learned in the way they came about. The elocutionary movement began in the eighteenth century as a way to capture what was good about effective public speakers. The behaviors of great speakers were observed and these observations were turned into rules for everyone to follow.

The reason the original speakers were great was because there was a close connection between what they said and how they said it. As the rules developed, the natural connection between what and how was lost. All that remained were the rules, the shell of good delivery. That’s how in the early years of the twentieth century there were schoolchildren reciting poetry while worrying about whether their elbows were turned out or in.

The question we need to ask ourselves is how far have we really come from this approach? If we take away the archaic language of The Ideal Orator, and the fact that it focuses on the performance of literature, if we account for how the style of delivery has changed over the past century, aren’t we looking at a process still used in a lot of presentation skills training classrooms today?

How about when participants in our workshops ask us about the rules for gestures, where the “power position” is in the room, whether crossed arms are a bad thing, or how many seconds of eye contact are appropriate?

Aren’t they making the same assumptions made by the elocutionists? Aren’t they separating the what from the how?

In my next article, I’ll focus on the answers to these questions.

Part 1, Part 3

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

My Mother’s Attic

June 24, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Presentation, Talent Development

Part 2, Part 3

Several years ago, my mother was cleaning out her attic. She was very good at throwing things out, but always hesitated when it came to books. When I visited her during this cleaning phase, she directed me to the latest stack and told me to take what I wanted. Last chance, she would say, before they get tossed or donated.

Most of the books were of no interest to me, Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, for example, that always came to the house when I was growing up. Nestled among them, though, was what has come to be one of my prized possessions—The Ideal Orator and Manual of Elocution, edited by John Wesley Hanson, Jr. and Lillian Woodward Gunckel, published in 1895.

I couldn’t believe what I was holding. First, it looked truly amazing. The front is blue, embossed with the image of a young girl, and highlighted in black, pink, and gold. The back was embossed with the same image but set in deep red. There was a flyer advertising the book stuck in the back pages. It said, “Bound in best silk cloth, 522 pages, including 40 full-page illustrations, marbled edges, emblematic design on back and side in colors, only….$1.75.” Needless to say, they don’t print books like this anymore.

Beyond its appearance, the reason I was so amazed to have found this book was its topic. At the time I had just completed my graduate work, and one of the classes I had taken focused on the history of elocutionary movement. Believe it or not, it was a really fascinating class. This movement developed in England and America during the 18th and 19th centuries. Its goal was to improve the skills of public speakers—initially lawyers and religious leaders, eventually everyone.

The movement was incredibly popular, especially in the US, and eventually led to the teaching of elocution in public schools in the early decades of the 20th century. These classes provided, as the title page of the book says, “Valuable Instruction and Rules for the Cultivation of the Voice and the Use of Gestures.”

“Where did this book come from?” I asked.

“I don’t know where that book came from, but I remember elocution classes in grade school,” my mother said.

“You took elocution in grade school?” Not quite believing the connection between her education and mine.

“Yes, I hated it. We all hated it. It was awful,” she said.

I knew exactly what she meant.

In the next blog I’ll talk about why my mother hated elocution classes and what that has to do with your business presentations.

Part 2, Part 3

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

What Rules Do You Have For Creating Visual Aids?

April 9, 2012 in Author, Delivery, FAQs, Greg Owen-Boger, Myths Debunked, Preparation, Video

Followers of this blog know that we are not a fan of rules. In this video blog, Greg Owen-Boger outlines some important things to consider when creating visual aids for presentations.

by Greg Owen-Boger, Vice President at Turpin Communication