Three ways to deliver better presentations more easily

September 23, 2014 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivering Your Presentation, Preparation, Presentation

dale_ludwig_hi-res_colorIf you’re a business presenter, you know that the presentations you deliver serve one purpose—they help you get business done. Your presentations aren’t big speeches. They aren’t TED talks. They’re practical, necessary, and far too often time-consuming and frustrating. If you’re like most presenters you probably spend too much time worrying that you’re over- or under-prepared, wondering if the slides you’re using will do the job, and struggling to follow the rules of delivery.

What if things could be different? What if your next presentation was a comfortable interaction between you and your audience, a kind of conversation that gets business done smoothly and efficiently? It can be if you turn away from the speechmaking strategies you’ve been taught and approach your presentation as if it were a conversation.

[Tweet “#Presentations serve one purpose—they help you get #business done.”]The problem business presenters face is fundamental. The assumption—reinforced in school and training classes—has always been that a speech and a presentation are essentially the same process, the difference between them measured in degrees of formality. Speeches are formal. Presentations less so.

This assumption encourages business presenters to bring the wrong tools to the job. It’s like using a sledgehammer to hang a picture on the wall—not only awkward but a little dangerous as well. This mismatch in approach has real-life consequences. Among them, increased nervousness for presenters, wasted preparation time, stilted delivery, and a tendency to blame PowerPoint for every presentation ill.

So let’s look at a new way to do things. If you approached your next presentation as a type of conversation, not a type of speech, what would you do differently? What adjustments would you need to make?

1. Prepare a frame, not a script
Conversations are spontaneous processes. Someone speaks as someone listens, back and forth. The same thing happens during a business presentation, the difference being there is someone in charge, someone leading the conversation. And that person, the presenter, has a goal that can only be reached through the conversation.

So how do you prepare for that? Not by scripting because that prevents the conversation from taking place. Not by ignoring preparation altogether because that leads to confusion and frustrated audience members. The solution is to build a frame for the conversation to take place within. A solid frame assures your audience of four things: you have a plan, you know what you want, you understand their perspective, and there is a reason for them to care about what you’re talking about.

The first few slides in your presentation should emphasize the frame you’ve built. Use an agenda slide, a slide that identifies your audience’s current situation, and maybe include a slide that lists the audience’s takeaways from your presentation. The number and type of slides really doesn’t matter as long as you communicate the frame. While the frame doesn’t communicate a lot of content, it does establish you as someone who has the audience’s need for clarity and efficiency in mind.

2. Bring content slides into the conversation, because they’re more than “visuals aids”
The conventional wisdom about the visual component in presentations holds that slides must be as simple as possible, images are more persuasive than bullet points, and presenters should never, ever read what’s on the slide. I might be able to make a case for each of these ideas if we were talking about speeches, but we’re not. So let’s take a closer look at how content slides should be used in a business presentation.

I’m fairly sure that many of the slides you use would not pass the scrutiny of a professional designer. There are a two reasons for this—your audience and the amount of time you have. First, your audience may want and need to see the details, the data, the spreadsheet. Information like that can’t be designed into a beautiful slide. Your job, then, is to bring that information into the conversation, and (just as important) make it understandable and useful. Second, you probably don’t have the time to create well-designed slides anyway. So there’s no point beating yourself up about it. Just be sure that when you’re talking about a complex slide you communicate the point you need to make. Don’t just talk about the details on the slide.

3. Initiate the conversation, don’t strive for perfect delivery
When your presentation begins, it’s your job to bring the people you’re talking to into the conversation. That requires focusing on conversation skills, not delivery skills. Here’s the difference. Delivery skills are about appearances. They are about how you look and sound to your audience. Delivery skills are developed through rehearsal and lead to a type of performance.

Conversation skills are used to initiate an interaction and keep it going. They do more than make you look and sound good. They help you establish a genuine connection between you and your audience. When that happens, your natural communication instincts will kick in and your nerves will be under control.

What are the most crucial conversational skills for presenters? Eye contact and pausing. Eye contact helps you connect with your audience. You can’t have a good face-to- face conversation without it. Pausing helps you think on your feet and stay in the moment. This may sound awfully simple, but it takes conscious effort to calm your mind and focus on others when you’re feeling the stress of presenting. So at the beginning of your presentation, focus on one of these skills, whichever one works better for you.

When it’s time for your next business presentation, turn away from traditional speechmaking and embrace the essential, conversational nature of presenting. When you do, you’ll get business done more easily.

by Dale Ludwig, President & Founder of Turpin Communication and co-author of the 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”

Calling Things by their Proper Name

May 13, 2013 in Author, Greg Owen-Boger, Presentation, Talent Development

greg 200x300“The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.” Confucius

I’ve heard this quote used in many contexts. I suppose that’s for good reason. What we call things matters.

For example, many types of communication are called “presentations,” and that’s caused a lot of trouble for business people.

A TED talk is very different from an industry conference breakout session, which is very different from a getting-work-done presentation to your team, which is very different from a sales presentation one might give sitting down across a desk to a single person. Unfortunately, each of these has been called a “presentation.”

To muck things up even more, our university system and the Learning & Development industry don’t differentiate. They use speechmaking rules and techniques when training for all types of presentations. As you may have read in The Orderly Conversation Blog before, it takes a very different set of skills to plan for and initiate these different types of communication events.

Add all the bad advice and chest thumping over PowerPoint (see this discussion on the ASTD LinkedIn Group) and we have a real mess on our hands.

So, what to do?

Here are my thoughts: Let’s agree to name the types of communication events we’re talking about. We’ll start by figuring out how formal they are and how much interaction is involved. Then we’ll figure out what skills and techniques are useful for each.

If it’s a one-way communication event without interaction from the audience and a rather high degree of formality, then it’s a speech or a lecture.

TED talks and keynotes fall into this category. While these events, in order to be effective, need to feel conversational, they actually aren’t because there’s no real dialogue taking place. The speaker does not react to the audience in a way that changes the course of the speech.

Learning to master speechmaking requires a certain type of training and rehearsal.

On the other hand, if it’s a two-way communication event with genuine interaction from the audience, it’s a presentation.

Most getting-business-done presentations fall into this category. They are, of course, prepared but because of their reactive nature, they also zig and zag in response to input from the audience.

Because of the conversational nature of these types of presentations they tend to be informal. The role of the presenter in these situations is similar to that of facilitator.

Learning to master these types of presentations requires a different set of skills. Rather than rehearsing to get it just right, presenters prepare to be flexible and responsive to the individuals in the audience.

The Beginning of Wisdom is to Call Things by their Proper Name
We’ve found it useful to take it one step further and define business presentations as Orderly Conversations. Orderly because they need to be carefully thought through and prepared. Conversations because they only succeed when a genuine dialogue takes place between speaker and audience. Once presenters are comfortable with both sides of the Orderly Conversation concept, their ability to manage the process is assured.

Dale Ludwig, Turpin’s founder, and I are in the process of finalizing our new book entitled “The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined.”

Our goal is to clear up the confusion so business presenters everywhere will gain a better understanding of what it takes to be an effective communicator.

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