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.

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”

Level Up

February 11, 2015 in Author, Barbara Egel, Delivery, Preparation, Presentation

Barbara Egel, Coach at Turpin CommunicationIt’s pretty close to impossible to get all the way to your first real job without hearing the phrase, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” What people usually mean by it is look professional—like management—even if you are interviewing to be a line cook / intern / stockroom staffer. The idea is that by dressing a level or two up from what the position seems to require, you give the impression of being engaged and competent and having that little extra polish that will make you promotable someday.

I’ve never heard anyone say it about conducting business presentations, but I think the idea definitely applies: “Speak as if you have the job you aspire to.” All you have to do is listen a little to understand that speech habits are generational and that executives speak differently from junior hires. When you’re in your 20s, you are still socialized to speak like your peers. “Like,” “and stuff,” “you guys,” and uptalk are all habits attributed to millennials (and Gen-Xers like me, actually), and their use immediately marks the speaker as young. Young usually gets interpreted as inexperienced, unsophisticated, still in training, and kind of ignorable. Beyond these obvious generational markers, habits such as fidgeting, allowing sentences to run on after a thought is finished, avoiding eye contact, and not stopping to think are interpreted as indicating a green speaker and a junior employee.

I know you might be thinking, “But won’t it sound fake and weird if I get up to present and sound like Don Draper or Diane Sawyer?” Well, yes, but that’s the beauty of maturing. You get to sound like you only more confident, thoughtful, and authoritative.

Spend some time projecting ahead in your imagination. What do you expect to sound like when you have your own team to manage? When you move from a cube to an office? When your title starts with Senior or Chief or Principal? You know who you want to become in your work life. If you manage your habits, create your presentation materials, and adjust your internal monologue to be that person now, the potential for you to become that person—with all its perks and responsibilities—will be much more evident to those who determine your work future.

As you put together your slides, as you run through them for clarity and concision, be that person. You’ll be surprised at how many of your “junior” habits fall by the wayside and how quickly and easily you grow yourself up to be an excellent speaker—and still be yourself. Indeed, it’s kind of the Turpin tagline: “Find your focus” (decide who/how you want to be as you move forward in your career), “Be yourself” (not some fake uber-adult so you end up sounding like Ron Burgundy), “Only better” (the junior employee with senior potential, the kid who stands out in the crowd, and the one they can put in front of key clients).

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

Grok Your Presentations

July 10, 2014 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Presentation, The Orderly Conversation

Grok - NPR 7-10-14While listening to All Things Considered on NPR yesterday afternoon, I heard a story about video game jargon. Although I don’t know anything about video games, by the end of the story I knew exactly what they were talking about.

It was part of a special series ATC is doing on trade lingo. The show’s producers have asked people to submit jargon that anyone outside of a particular line of work would never understand. One of the words submitted by a video game designer, Max Nichols, was grok.

As Nichols explained it, grokking occurs when “you translate, what is at first a hunk of plastic with buttons in your hands, into a kind of seamless connection to you and your game character.” When this happens, gamers “don’t need to think … they just do it.”

What struck me was that the same process happens when you’re fully engaged in your presentations. Whatever tools you’re using—slides, handouts, even your own voice and body—become seamlessly integrated into the interaction you’re having. You don’t need to think about using them. You just do.

The story is 3:27. If you listen, you’ll also learn about another gaming term, greebling.

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

Coaching SMEs to be Expert Facilitators of Learning

May 13, 2014 in Author, Greg Owen-Boger, Posts for Buyers, Talent Development, Training

UPDATE: Back By Popular Demand

Greg’s been asked back to deliver this same session two more times at the 2015 Association for Talent Development International Conference & Exposition (ATD ICE).


ASTD ICE 5-13-14I had the pleasure of speaking at the ASTD (renamed ATD mid-conference) International Conference & Exposition in Washington, DC last week. The audience for my session included instructional designers and leaders within the training & development function. The topic was about ways to coach SMEs to be more effective in the training room.

The session, as you can see from the picture, was packed. Over 200 people attended, and more would have joined had the room moderator not closed the door and turned people away. I was reminded (again) how hungry the training industry is for help working with their Subject Matter Experts.

Why Bother with SMEs?
There’s good reason to involve SMEs in the training process. They bring credibility, depth, and enterprise-wide perspective. They can also cause frustration for everyone involved, including the learner. And when learners are frustrated, learning doesn’t happen as fully or as efficiently as it should.

The Challenge We See
In our experience, working with SMEs to improve their effectiveness in the training room, my colleagues and I have discovered a few things:

  • Materials, slides, and facilitator guides are rarely created with the SME’s delivery style and experience level in mind.
  • SMEs want to do a good job as trainers, but they don’t fully understand what the job is and what’s expected of them.
  • They usually focus too much on the information rather than the application of the information to their learners’ jobs.
  • They don’t understand how to frame the information to provide proper context to the learners.
  • They often aren’t given proper training.

In short, organizations aren’t setting the SMEs up for success. They’re not getting the resources they need to be effective presenters and facilitators of learning. This, in turn, leads to dull learning events and the loss of learners’ good will.

The Solution
Let’s not beat up on SMEs too much. They mean well, but they need help.

On the instructional design side, they need materials designed to support them and their unique needs. Design elements that work for professional trainers don’t necessarily work for others outside the industry.

In the training room, once the session starts, they need to understand that they wear two hats.

  1. The Expert Hat is the obvious hat that they wear. This is the one they wear when they are talking about data, details, and their area of expertise.
  2. The Trainer Hat is less obvious, but a much more important hat. This is the hat they need to put on to provide context, connect dots, and to facilitate learning and the application of the information to the learners’ jobs.

Once they understand their dual purpose in the training room, SMEs are much better able to facilitate learning.

Contact us at info@turpincommunication.com to learn how we can help your SMEs be more effective in the training room.

Postscript #1: SMEs From the Ground Up
I was glad my session at ATD ICE was on Tuesday because that gave me an opportunity to sit in on Chuck Hodell’s session on Monday. He wrote the recent book SMEs From the Ground Up. If you work with SMEs, I highly recommend it. He has some fresh thinking that’s well worth taking a look at. During his session, Chuck talked about ways to manage SME relationships, set expectations, and celebrate their accomplishments.

Perhaps his most impressive thinking, though, is around redefining who the SMEs are on any given project. He writes, “… SMEs are both content-related and process-related. The programmer, the writer, the teacher/trainer and the manager are all SMEs in ways that matter in our work. Identifying and working with all of these specific types of SMEs provides endless possibilities for improved products and processes.”

Postscript #2: Is that Flat Stanley in the Picture Above?
Yes! Not only did I get to speak with 200 learning & development professionals, I got to do it with my Great Nephew Jayce’s Flat Stanley! It’s a cool project. If you’re not familiar with Flat Stanley, click this link: https://www.flatstanley.com/about

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 2 of 4)

August 27, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Preparation, Presentation

Part 1, Part 3, Part 4

This is the second in a series of four articles about the need to take a fresh look at the visuals you use in your presentations. Here’s the question I posed at the end of the last article.

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?

The visuals you use serve two basic functions. Some of them bring order to the conversation. Let’s call them framing slides. Other visuals are the subject of the conversation. Let’s call them content slides.

Framing Slides
These slides appear in the introduction, conclusion, and as transition slides in the body of the presentation. Slide titles are also used to reinforce the frame. The role of these slides is to make listening easier for your audience. Think of them as a road map. They tell the audience what you want to achieve, how the presentation is organized, and why it’s happening. They provide context and a sense of order.

Too often, presenters underuse these slides because they don’t contain much content. Agenda slides are flashed on the screen with a quick, “And here’s our agenda” and then they’re gone. Similar things happen with transition slides, slide titles, and conclusion slides. While you may struggle to know what to say when these slides are on the screen, just remember their function. They are there to bring order to the conversation and build the audience’s confidence in you as a presenter.

Content Slides
The slides you deliver in the body of the presentation are the subject of the conversation taking place. As such, they receive more attention than framing slides. Sometimes, when you’re delivering a lot of detail and data, the audience focuses on the visual for an extended period of time.

When this happens, the slide is much more than what we think of as “visual aids,” the simple, subordinate type of visual traditionally used by speechmakers. When content slides are delivered you and the audience need to give them the attention they deserve. That might be a lot or a little, depending on how the content fits into the presentation as a whole.

What you say about content slides will also be influenced by your audience, of course. You may need to say more than you intended or less. Just remember that your goal is to keep whatever you say within the context of the presentation’s frame.

In the next article, I’ll write about visuals that have a life outside of the presentation in which they’re being used.

Part 1, Part 3, Part 4

by Dale Ludwig, President & Founder of 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”

The 2 Levels of Defining Presentation Success

June 3, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Facilitation, Presentation, Training

Your success as a business presenter always exists on two levels.

  1. On one level it is determined by whether the stated goal of the presentation is reached. Did the buyer agree to buy, for example. Or, did your team see the need for the new procedure you’re asking them to follow? This type of success is fairly easy to measure.
  2. The other level of success is more difficult. It is a measure of how effectively you managed the process of presenting. Or, as we look at it, did you manage the conversation in an appropriately orderly fashion?

The second level of success often determines the first. I’m sure there are times when a poorly managed presentation achieves the goal it was intended to reach. But when you consider how the process felt to the audience—frustrating, inefficient, a waste of time—such a presentation can hardly be considered a complete success.

Presenting is Part of Your Everyday Work

The thing we need to remember is that presentations are part of everyone’s day-to-day work. So when presenters fail to manage the process well, they’re making it difficult for audience members to do their jobs. When that happens, audience members are stuck. After all, they are captive. They don’t have the option of walking out or flipping to a new channel. So what they often do is silently disengage. They might feel a sudden need to check their email or think about dinner, doing whatever they can to cope with a bad situation.

Most of the time this reaction has little to do with the goal of the presentation (level 1) and everything to do with whether the presenter is managing the conversation effectively (level 2).

For example, if you’re delivering market research to a group of sales people, your audience wants to understand the research, but they also want you to make understanding it easy. That level of success goes beyond the information itself. It involves:

  • Emphasizing context and relevance
  • Providing perspective
  • Leaving out information that isn’t useful to your audience (whether you want to or not)
  • Caring about their understanding and buy in
  • Being responsive to the in-the-moment needs of the audience

Business presentations are a collaborative process. Pulling your slides together and having a specific goal is only the first step, and that step alone will never guarantee success. A successful presentation is one in which the audience and the presenter work together in a fruitful, efficient process.

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

Using Handouts when Presenting

May 28, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Presentation, Video

Dale Ludwig, President & Founder of Turpin Communication and co-author of the upcoming book, “The Orderly Conversation,” discusses how to use handouts effectively when presenting.

Why We Do What We Do (Part 2 of 4)

April 15, 2013 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Facilitation, Posts for Buyers, Preparation, Presentation, Training

A Discussion of Turpin Communication’s Core Principles:
Default Approaches

Part 1, Part 3, Part 4

This is the second in a series of four posts focusing on Turpin’s core principles. In the last entry I focused on the Orderly Conversation, our term for the presentations business people deliver. As I said, the characteristics of a presentation that make it a Conversation always compete with those keeping it Orderly. It’s the presenter’s job to stay on track without sacrificing the spontaneity or immediacy conversations require.

Managing this tension would be a relatively easy thing to do if you were simply having a conversation with a coworker about a project you’re working on. Information would be exchanged, points made, and supporting arguments explained. With a presentation, you’re still having a conversation with your audience, but you have a specific goal you want to achieve, you’re probably using slides or a handout, and you have time to prepare.

Presenters respond to this challenge in one of two fundamental ways. We call these responses Default Approaches. One group, the Writers, default to the orderly side of the process. It’s natural for them to approach presenting as a linear process. Writers rely on preparation, detail, and control for success.

For the other group, Improvisers, the conversation is always front and center—even during the preparation process. These presenters rely on their ability to engage the audience and keep the conversation going.

Both Defaults bring important skills and strengths to the process, of course. They just need to keep things balanced. The conversation needs to breathe without straying too far off course.

Individual presenters must be aware of their Default Approach so they know which side of the process they should focus on. When we work with Writers, our goal is to increase their comfort with the spontaneous, sometimes-messy process of delivery. For Improvisers, improvement is found by making peace with the framework of the presentation and trusting it to make understanding easier.

As I said in the last post, everyone improves along a separate path. Insight into your Default tells us where that path starts.

In the next post, I’ll write about the connection between engaging listeners in the conversation and reduced nervousness.

Part 1, Part 3, Part 4

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