What we wish everyone knew about presentation anxiety

September 23, 2015 in Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Managing Nerves, Myths Debunked, Nervousness, Preparation, Presentation

presentation anxiety 9-23-15Last week I was working with a nervous workshop participant. Let’s call him Nate. Nate said that his biggest concern when presenting was nervousness.

“What sort of nervousness is it?” I asked since nervousness is caused by different things for different people. “Is it about the audience, the topic you’re talking about, or something else?” Nate said that his problem had to do with the fear of losing track of what he wanted to say, just getting lost in the weeds, and maybe going blank.

“Has that ever happened?” I asked.

“Yes … when I was in sixth grade. I was delivering a speech to students and parents and lost my place. I was using note cards and just panicked. I stared at the cards, not able to find my place. It was really bad.”

We laughed about the fact that something that happened in middle school still influenced his life as a business presenter. I assured him that he is not the first person to have something like that happen. Then we talked about the strategies he was using to manage his nervousness. He said he practiced his presentations as much as possible and always took notes with him in case he forgot something.

As it turned out, neither one of those solutions is right for him. The presentations Nate delivers are informal and interactive. By trying to exercise tight control over what he said, he was working against his success. Instead of being open and responsive to his audience’s needs, he was wasting mental energy trying to say precisely what he planned to say.[Tweet “By trying to exercise tight control over what he said, he was working against his success.”]

The solution

We found that there are two strategies that would work better.

  1. Prepare to be flexible. Rather than scripting and relying on note cards, Nate found that using his practice time to get comfortable with the main points he wanted to make helped him stay on track. After all, Nate was technical by nature, so the details always came easily. It was the main points, the big picture, that often got lost. I encouraged him to substitute the script in his head with an outline.
  2. Let your slides be your guide. The first time Nate went through his presentation, I noticed that he was talking about what was on his slides, but he was ignoring the slides themselves. He was focused on his note cards. By encouraging him to use the slides as his guide (yes, even if that meant looking at them and turning away from his audience) he would have a much easier time of it. By acknowledging the slide and talking about what it shows (again, big picture), he had an easy time getting his head around the content.

Nate discovered something important. The process of preparing for an Orderly Conversation is very different than preparing for a speech. While using note cards and scripting may seem like the easiest way to guarantee a clear and persuasive message, it’s not. Staying out of the weeds and remembering what to say has to do with two things: (1) how you prepare and (2) trusting the framework created by your slides.

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

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

What We Can Learn from the Oscars

February 26, 2013 in Assessing Your Default, Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, Facilitation, FAQs, Myths Debunked, Presentation

I watched the 85th annual Oscar telecast on Sunday. I usually watch the show, and this year I actually stayed awake until the end. What I like about the Oscars is not so much who wins, but what people say after they’ve won one. I don’t know why, but there is something really enjoyable (and not necessarily in a kind way) about watching someone experience an incredible career high and immediately have to speak to an audience of millions about it.

The pleasure is greatest with the acting categories, of course, because the contrast is so great. Here are people who can deliver amazing performances on film and then struggle just like the rest of would during the acceptance speech.

For business people it reinforces just how challenging delivering a presentation actually is.

Because when you think about it, an acceptance speech—in terms of how it’s prepared and delivered—is not that different than a presentation. They are both in their own ways, Orderly Conversations. I’m sure every nominee, even if they thought they had no chance of winning, had a plan. They thought about what they wanted to say and the order in which they wanted to say it. Some of them thought about the message they wanted to get across (Ben Affleck’s was that when you get knocked down in life, “All that matters is that you gotta get up.”)

Beyond those basics, though, there are other similarities. So here is a list of statements that are true for both the presentations you deliver and Oscar acceptance speeches.

  • Scripting doesn’t work. The best thing about this year’s show was that no one I saw pulled out a piece of paper, unfolded it, and started reading. When winners read a script like that they are never engaging or interesting.
  • People are nervous but they work through it. It’s interesting to go back and watch the acceptance speeches online. What you notice is that almost everyone is nervous at first (usually having a hard time catching their breath and saying a lot of ums and uhs), but they pause, breathe, think, and then settle down. Adele was the only winner who never fully gained her composure during her acceptance. The good thing is that she also made fun of herself for it. Which brings me to this comparison.
  • When they make mistakes, they laugh at themselves and move on. What did Jennifer Lawrence say after she fell walking up the stairs? “You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell.” That’s a perfect recovery.
  • Speaking quickly when you’re running out of time doesn’t help. Ben Affleck tried that last night before he got to the closing I quoted above (which was very well delivered). When he was speeding along he lost control and got into trouble with his “marriage is hard work” remark.
  • The best ones feel spontaneous. It doesn’t matter if acceptance speeches aren’t perfect. Those of us in the audience don’t want to see perfectly planned performances. The acceptance speech is one of the few times the public sees actors as they really are (or as close as we’ll ever get to it). We want to see them in the moment, responding to what’s happening in a genuine way. The same can be said for your presentations.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication

Six Red Flags for Business Presenters

September 10, 2012 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Myths Debunked, Preparation, Presentation

I was on Linkedin this morning reading updates. While I was there, I saw a link to a blog that made me cringe. It was a post about how to deliver a perfect presentation. I clicked on it and saw, as I suspected, that every tip that was mentioned was only applicable to the speechmaking process—not  business presentations.

Once again, I thought to myself, the presentation skills training industry has a problem defining itself. Speeches and presentations are constantly tossed into the same big bucket and the bucket is labeled Public Speaking. Because of this, lists like the one I read this morning confuse and frustrate business presenters. The tips themselves weren’t bad for speechmakers. But for the business presenters we work with, they were inappropriate.

So, I’ve decided to come up with my own list. Here are six words that should be red flags for any business presenter reading a book, article, or blog about presenting. When you see them, beware. They aren’t for you.

  1. Performance: The presentations you deliver are not and should never be performances. They are conversations that need to take on a life of their own once they begin.
  2. Stage: When writers talk about “taking the stage” what they’re talking about is a performance.
  3. Entertain: While it’s fine for a speech to be entertaining, presentations shouldn’t be. Can we have fun during a presentation? Absolutely. But if you plan to be entertaining, chances are good that you’ll wind up wasting your audience’s time.
  4. Jokes: I don’t need to elaborate on this one, right?
  5. Perfect: Presentations are not perfect. Sure, they can “go very well,” they can “succeed,” but setting out to make them “perfect” won’t work. When presentations succeed, the presenter initiates and manages a lively, productive conversation with the audience.
  6. Practice: You wouldn’t think that practice could possibly be a bad thing, but if presenters practice to be perfect or practice to the point of scripting, they will be in big trouble. What you should do before you present is prepare to be flexible and responsive.

If you’re a business presenter, give yourself permission to ignore some of the recommendations you read, no matter how many times you see them. The work you do as a presenter is uniquely challenging and understanding how it differs from speechmaking is the first step toward improvement.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication