Coach Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to Understand Their Dual Role in the Training Room

August 17, 2016 in Greg Owen-Boger, Posts for Buyers, Talent Development, Training, Video

In this video, produced by the Association for Talent Development (ATD), Greg Owen-Boger, Turpin’s VP, discusses why Subject Matter Experts need guidance when asked to step into a training role.


“I think the biggest challenge working with subject matter experts in the training room is that they simply don’t understand their dual role. That is, of course, that of Subject Matter Expert, but also that of trainer. And once they understand that there’s a very big difference between the two, and that by wearing the trainer hat they need to provide relevance, context, and on the job application, they’re more likely to succeed. And, ultimately, they need to understand that it’s not enough just to say the words. Those words need to be heard and understood.”

Throw Out the Ground Rules: 5 Things Learners Want Us to Know

May 25, 2016 in Dale Ludwig, Talent Development, Training

Have you ever attended a training event at work that began with the trainer delivering a set of ground rules for the class? If the answer is yes, the rules probably sounded like this.

Good morning everyone! Before we get started, let me go over a few ground rules for today’s class. First, and most important, please make an effort to be present and focused. To help with that, please silence your cell phones. There will be time during breaks to check emails and texts. Finally, remember that the best learning happens when there is interaction. Please ask questions whenever you have them.

If you’re a trainer, have you ever delivered rules like these? I know I have. But I stopped a long time ago. One day the truth of what I was doing dawned on me. I realized that I was beginning class with a giant scoop of condescension. I was telling a group of adults, grownups with jobs, what sort of behavior was acceptable and what I expected of them.

The assumption I was communicating was that it is the learners’ responsibility to engage in the process, that it was their responsibility to stay focused, and that they were responsible for lively interaction. That’s not their job at all. It’s mine. I need to engage them, help them stay focused and encourage their participation. It’s my responsibility to make them want to listen and participate.

Not too long ago, I participated as a learner in a workshop. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when the familiar ground rules were laid out by the trainer. The rules were followed by an ice breaker intended to warm us up for learning.

As the other people in the class and I dutifully listened and played along (even though we really didn’t want to), I imagined what it would be like if we were asked to set our own ground rules.

  1. We want this class to be about us. It’s not that we’re selfish people. It’s that this is a work day and we’re busy. So please, stay focused on our needs, our situation, and what this class has to do with our jobs. And please be as efficient as you can be. Our time is valuable.
  2. We will need to be reminded why we’re here. It’s not that we’re forgetful. It’s just that we may not be able to immediately connect what we’re learning with our everyday work. Please make the effort to connect the dots. If the process doesn’t feel easy to us, we’ll give up.
  3. We will be distracted during class. We will be distracted by our own thoughts and the people sitting next to us. We will be distracted because our phones are off and work is piling up. Don’t be upset by this; we’re constantly distracted. So don’t take it personally if you sense that our thoughts are somewhere else. When the distraction is over, we hope that you will make it easy for us to re-engage.
  4. We need to trust you and feel comfortable with you. Not only do we expect you to know what you’re doing in terms of training content, we also expect you to be flexible. We want to feel that you understand our experience and expertise and that you take both into account during this class. We also want to sense there is a genuine, caring person at the front of the room. If you seem scripted, insincere, or ask us to raise our hands in response to a rhetorical question, we’re not comfortable.
  5. We do not want to be put on the spot. When do we feel put on the spot? When you force us to participate in an ice breaker. When you tell us that something is intended to be fun. When you ask us to participate in an exercise that does not feel necessary. And even when it does feel necessary, we still may not want to participate because most of us don’t like exercises.

Have you ever wanted to set your own learner ground rules? If so, what would they be?

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

Setting Up Training Exercises: Be Clear and Specific

May 7, 2012 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Facilitation, Greg Owen-Boger, Preparation, Training

Last week, Greg and I were teaching a workshop for a group of Subject Matter Experts getting ready to deliver training to people new in their roles. It’s one of my favorite types of classes to teach because the challenges for an SME/trainer are so clear.

During the last segment of the workshop we were practicing how to set up the exercises that are part of the training the SMEs are delivering. These exercises were relatively simple things: round table discussions about a particular topic or maybe practice applying new information in a real-world situation. Pretty typical stuff.

One of the main points that Greg and I were trying to get across is that trainers have to be very clear and specific when telling learners what to do during an exercise. Something as simple as “Group 2 should work with Group 1 on this exercise” can cause a major disruption when people stand up and struggle to figure out where they should go, what they should take with them, how long they should work and what their goal should be.

Then Greg said something that I thought was really insightful. He said,

When I was fresh out of school, I directed children’s theatre. The type of theatre where the kids are the actors. When I was giving directions I was taught to say, “All right now, everyone look at me. (pause and wait until they do) Now, when I say ‘go’ and not before, I want all the boys to go over by the piano and stand in a group facing me. (pause to let that sink in.) All of the girls should go over to the table and stand in a group facing me. (pause to let that sink in) OK… go.”

Greg acknowledged that the SMEs weren’t teaching children, of course, but the same level of clarity about what people should do and when they should do it can be applied in every training situation.

The take away was the SMEs should always anticipate confusion and do their best to avoid it by:

  • Standing still when delivering directions because it’s easier to get and keep every person’s attention that way.
  • Delivering directions before asking learners to do anything. If you’re asking people to move across the room, don’t get them on their feet and expect them to stay focused on what you’re saying.
  • Keeping in mind that adults are out of practice when following very simple directions, especially when they’re in groups. Kids, because they do it every day in school, are much better at it. Adults require more patience.

So the next time you’re setting up an exercise or asking a group of people to carry out a simple task, borrow some of the techniques that people working with children use all the time.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication

Let’s Meet Up at ASTD International Conference & Exposition May 23-25 in Orlando

March 24, 2011 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, News, Preparation, Training

If you’re heading to Orlando for the American Society for Training and Development conference, let’s meet up. We’ll be in booth 1227.

ASTD Exhibitor, booth 1227

Want to check us out ahead of time? Don’t blame you. Our virtual tradeshow booth is here, and it contains all sorts of information about our presentation and facilitation skills training workshops.

Find out what we mean when we say:

“This is communication training. REDEFINED.”


Also, Dale Ludwig, Turpin’s Founder and President, will be speaking Wednesday, May 25. If you are a trainer, or a training manager, you won’t want to miss this exciting session.

Trainer, Know Thyself: Why Your Default Matters
Wednesday, May 25, 10:30am – 11:45am

In this session, you’ll take a fresh look at what it means to be a successful trainer. At the heart of every training session is the need to be organized, prepared, and on track. At the same time, trainers need to engage learners in a genuine, spontaneous conversation. In other words, there is a strong tension between your “orderly” training plan and your “conversational” delivery.

One way trainers balance this tension is to blend didactic instruction with group discussion and activities. But success lies in execution, and the best-laid combination of methods often falls out of balance because of your default—the way you personally respond to the tension between the orderly and the conversational. Your default is a measure of your comfort, habits, strengths, and weaknesses. Awareness of it explains why some trainers thrive by keeping things on track—planning, details, time management—while others thrive being spontaneous, engaging listeners and encouraging discussion. While the influence of your default is felt throughout the process, it is often unconscious and uncontrolled.

This session will help you explore the influence of your default and what you can do to manage it to your advantage in the classroom.

Dale Ludwig is the founder and president of Turpin Communication, a presentation and facilitation training company. Over the past 20 years he and his partners at Turpin have developed methodologies that challenge much of the conventional wisdom in the field. Working with presenters, facilitators and trainers, Turpin’s work (1) focuses on the orderly conversation that must take place in today’s business environment, (2) acknowledges the default approach that every presenter and facilitator brings to that process and (3) helps communicators develop the skills they need to engage listeners in a productive interaction. Dale has a PhD in Communication from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

773-445-8855  |

Hands on Hips — OK or Not?

November 4, 2010 in Author, Delivering Your Presentation, Delivery, Engaging Listeners, FAQs, Greg Owen-Boger, Myths Debunked

Greg Owen-Boger, Vice President of Turpin Communication

Discussions on LinkedIn often revolve around public speaking.  This one in particular caught my eye.  It was posted in the Public Speaking Network group and is about whether or not it’s OK to put your hands on your hips.

The gist of the question was this:
Is it wrong for speakers to place their hands on their hips?  I believe it’s a negative gesture and perhaps somewhat condescending.  Any thoughts?

Answers ranged from “yes, it’s the worst thing you can do” to “who cares where you put your hands.”

My response:

As a presentation/facilitation skills trainer & coach, I get questions about gestures all the time.

The answer is not so much what’s “right,” but what’s natural for the speaker.  Manufactured gestures and stances look phony.  Audiences don’t want phony.  They want real.

But how to become comfortable enough so that the real you comes out?

The solution is to engage your listeners in a thoughtful two-way conversation.  Look them in the eyes.  Look for their reactions.  Respond accordingly.   Soon enough you won’t be thinking about the placement of your hands, you’ll be thinking about the conversation.

All that said, there are times when certain gestures can convey the wrong thing.  Hands on hips is one of those, so is hands in pockets.  But you need to start with engagement, which will provide you with awareness so that you’ll know instinctively what’s appropriate and how to adapt to any given situation.

We use this slogan in our workshops and it really resonates with business people.

Find your focus.  Be yourself.  Only better.

What are your thoughts?  Post them below.

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

Common Presentation Challenges

October 28, 2010 in Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Myths Debunked, Nervousness, Preparation

Greg Owen-Boger, Vice President of Turpin Communication

In a LinkedIn discussion recently a question came up about the most common challenges facing business presenters.

Many people claimed nervousness, lack of knowledge, unexpected questions, PowerPoint, sentence structure (?) and so on. These are challenges people face, for sure, but these simplistic responses fail to get to the heart of why presenting is so challenging for so many people.

Here’s how I responded:

As a presentation skills trainer/coach, I think one of the most common challenges people face is that they prepare for a speech instead of a presentation. Speeches are scripted, rehearsed and performed. Presentations (which is what most of us deliver day-to-day) need to, of course, be organized well, but they need to be delivered in a flexible, spontaneous, conversational way.

So the challenge I see most is that people know how to prepare for a speech, but they don’t know how to prepare for a presentation. This leads to anxiety, nervousness, analysis paralysis and boring, stiff, unengaging and unsuccessful presentations.

In our work, we help presenters make adjustments to how they think about the process and this makes all the difference.

Faithful readers of this blog know that we consider presentations to be Orderly Conversations. Here are some related articles:

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

Find your focus. Be yourself. Only better.

April 15, 2010 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Preparation

A few years ago I wrote this paragraph for the Reference Guide we distribute to all the participants in our Presentation Skills workshops:

One of the first questions we ask before a workshop begins is, “If you had to choose one thing to take away from this class, what would it be?”  When we started asking this question, I was surprised to learn that the answer was almost always the same.  People wanted to be more comfortable.  They wanted the image they project as “presenter” to be the same as the image they project the rest of the time.  They didn’t want to become someone flashy or unusual.  They wanted to be themselves when they were presenting, just without the loss of control and the nagging belief that they weren’t quite succeeding.  They were confident that they would be effective and persuasive once comfort was achieved.

I’m in the process of writing a new version of the Reference Guide now.  I’m excited about it because it will include some new ways of thinking about and improving presentations.  One thing that won’t change, though, is the idea that presenters want to be comfortable, to “be themselves.”  This goal has become so central to our approach that it’s part of our new tag line.  Find your focus.  Be yourself.  Only better.

What this means for training

Life in the presentation skills classroom would be so easy if we could say to participants, “OK, I’d like you to deliver your presentation now, and don’t worry about making it fancy or anything, just be yourself.”  But, it doesn’t work that way.  A lot of things happen to your “self” when you walk to the front of the room to deliver a presentation.  Nervousness gets in the way, affecting the way you look and sound.  Sometimes your mind goes blank or your thoughts start racing ahead .  You may speed up, speak too quietly, freeze in place or forget to look at people.  The pressure you feel also affects what you say.  For example, the drive to be clear and accurate might lead you to say more than you need to.  Or you may go off on a tangent and forget to use your slides.

These reactions, and all the others you may have experienced, are manageable.

First, you need to know what is happening to you.  This isn’t as easy as you might think.  Your everyday self-awareness is often taken over by uncomfortable self-consciousness when you’re presenting.

Second, you need to know what to do to engage your listeners in a genuine, conversation.

If there’s a secret to being yourself at the front of the room it’s engagement.  Here’s how it works.

Find your focus.
Finding your focus means knowing what to do to get engaged. For most people it comes down to two skills: eye contact or pausing (or a combination of the two). These skills work differently for everyone, so our job in the training room is to help people experiment and discover what works best for them.

Be yourself.
Once presenters are engaged, they feel comfortable.  They’re aware of their listeners, but not distracted by them.  Their thoughts settle down, and they can think on their feet.  When this happens, their personalities and natural communication skills emerge.

Only better.
When presenters are comfortable and engaged, they’re able to respond appropriately to the presentation environment.  They’re aware of their position in the room and are free to move about comfortably.  They’re free to focus on their listeners, slides and message.  They know instinctively what they need to say or do to get their ideas across.  Further, they’ve tamed any habits or delivery distractions that may have plagued them in the past.

In short, when presenters focus on engaging their listeners, they feel and look comfortable, project the confidence that’s within them and take control of the unpredictable, spontaneous process of presenting.

They have found their focus.  They are themselves.  Only better.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication

Which Hat to Wear? SME or Trainer?

March 2, 2010 in Author, Delivery, Greg Owen-Boger, Preparation, Training

This post was inspired by a train-the-trainer session Dale Ludwig and I led two weeks ago.  We were working with a group of SMEs (subject matter experts) in the insurance industry as they prepared to deliver enterprise-wide training sessions.

Of course the SMEs knew a lot about their topics.  The problem was they wanted to share most of it with their trainees.  This desire is typical not only when training, but when delivering every-day presentations as well.  So, during the training session, we helped the SMEs switch hats.  They needed to take off their favorite, most comfortable hat (the SME Hat), and put on a slightly less comfortable one (the Trainer Hat).

When you switch hats like this you’ll realize that trainees and every-day audiences don’t want or need to know everything you know.  (Nor do they have time for it.)  What they need is to be engaged in a well-developed, listener-focused, concise conversation.

So, put on your Trainer Hat the next time you develop a training session or presentation.  Get clear on your objectives.  Think about what your listeners need to learn from you in order to take the action you want them to take.  From there, create an agenda that includes only the information that will help you reach your goals.

One thing that happens when you take off your SME Hat is that you feel like you’re not demonstrating your expertise.  Don’t worry.  When you zero in on what your listeners need and want to know about your topic, they’ll feel like you really care about their perspective and understanding.  And that’s a good thing.

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

Need help preparing for your next presentation?  Take this online presentation skills course today: “Preparing a Presentation.”