Successful Presenting Starts with Understanding Your Default Approach
One thing that sets Turpin apart from other presentation skills training companies is that we think of presentations as Orderly Conversations, because they share characteristics with both writing and conversation. Like a written document, a good presentation is thoughtfully prepared and structured. It is clear and accurate. Like a conversation, it’s also spontaneous, interactive and unpredictable.
Defining presentations in this way helps us answer some of the most fundamental questions presentation skills trainers face:
- How do you explain why techniques that work for one presenter don’t work for others?
- Why is it that the old maxim “Practice makes perfect” isn’t always true?
- How is it that someone can be a dynamic speaker, but after listening to them you have no idea what their point was?
- How do you deal with the fact that people approach the presentation process with totally different assumptions?
Questions like these have been ignored for too long.
The answers lie in accepting every individual as they are and building the training process around each presenter’s Default Approach. Participants come to a presentation skills class with various levels of experience, different educational backgrounds and unique personalities. All of these things influence the way they think about and execute the presentation process. Their combined influence results in a unique Default Approach, their gut response to the idea of preparing and delivering a presentation. While there’s nothing wrong with anyone’s Default, presenters need to be aware of them if they want to improve. Here’s a quick description of the two basic defaults, Writers and Improvisers.
First, there are the Writers.
Writers thrive with preparation and organization. They are naturally thorough and often feel there is never enough time to prepare. Writers incorrectly assume that the success of a presentation lies in what they do before they deliver it.
Because of this, Writers tend to stick to their plan regardless of what’s happening in the room. Unfortunately, things never go as planned, leading to an inflexible approach and high levels of anxiety.
During preparation, Writers need to remind themselves that their presentations will never be perfect, no matter how much they strive for it. They need to simplify their slides and focus on what listeners will gain from the information they’re presenting, not simply the information itself.
During delivery, Writers need to focus on the big picture instead of the details, and stop trying to say things perfectly.
When they make these types of adjustments they will naturally feel that they haven’t (1) said things as well as they could, (2) provided enough detail and (3) demonstrated their knowledge. The good news is that even though Writers may feel this way, they’re probably doing just fine. And their listeners will appreciate their clear, concise conversational delivery.
On the other side are the Improvisers.
Improvisers thrive with the conversational connection they create with listeners. Chances are good that they are fairly comfortable presenters and don’t worry too much about preparation. But, Improvisers incorrectly assume that they can trust themselves to be clear and concise.
Unfortunately their confidence leads to ineffective preparation, and rambling presentations. Some Improvisers delay or avoid preparation altogether. The result can be a set of slides that don’t quite hit the mark. Once the presentation starts, Improvisers tend to lose their focus, go off on tangents, forget about their slides, and confuse their listeners.
An Improviser’s improvement starts with the realization that a well-prepared presentation is not a straitjacket. Instead, preparation should result in a strong, flexible framework for the presentation. This is especially important for the introduction, a time when Improvisers really need to set clear direction for the rest of the presentation. Also, Improvisers will do themselves a huge favor by using slide titles that focus on the main point for each slide.
As they deliver their presentations, Improvisers need to refer to their slide titles to remind them of their point. When they’ve done that, they’re free to improvise.
When they make these types of adjustments, Improvisers may feel that their slides are getting in the way of the conversation, maybe even that the slides aren’t really necessary. In spite of this, though, Improvisers should remember that listeners need structure. It’s the job of every presenter, no matter how engaging he or she may be, to make listening and understanding as easy as possible. And that means paying attention to what’s on the screen.
When presenters recognize and successfully manage their Default Approach, the preparation process will be more efficient and their presentations will be more comfortably and effectively delivered. Helping presenters understand and manage their Defaults is one of the ways Turpin has redefined presentation skill training. And, it’s another way that our training helps presenters be themselves…only better.
Written by Dale Ludwig
Dale Ludwig has a Ph.D. in Communication and, prior to Turpin, taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He founded Turpin Communication in 1992 with the mission to provide the best presentation and facilitation skills training possible. Since then he has worked to do just that. In addition to being one of Turpin’s lead instructors, he also serves as our Chief Learning Architect when tailoring learning engagements for our clients. Dale is a frequent blogger and the co-author of the book "The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined." He’s excited about his latest book, also co-authored with Greg Owen-Boger, "Effective SMEs: A Trainer’s Guide to Helping Subject Matter Experts Facilitate Learning."