Dale Ludwig - Mar 4, 2019

The Orderly Conversation Defined

One of the most important things for business communicators to understand is the distinction between a speech and a presentation. They are not the same.

Demonstration of the large difference between a speech and a business presentation.

The problem is not that people struggle to articulate the difference between the two or have a hard time distinguishing one from the other as an audience member. The problem is that when it comes to preparing for a presentation, they follow the rules for speechmaking, in effect tossing speechmaking and business presenting into the “public speaking” bucket.

That’s a big problem.

Here’s what I mean. Think about the last presentation you delivered. Did you use any of these techniques?

  • Scripting and memorizing the first few minutes of your presentation as a way to get over your nervousness
  • Practicing delivery in front of a mirror or a friend in an attempt to perfect your delivery
  • Planning to open with a shocking statement or surprising fact
  • Including text on your slides that you do not intend to look at during your presentation

If your answer is yes to any of these techniques, you’re using speechmaking techniques that are getting in the way of a successful presentation.

What we need is a new way to think about business presentations. Unlike speeches, presentations are spontaneous and interactive. While they are planned, they aren’t scripted. A presenter’s success depends on their ability to engage the audience in genuine conversation. Once engaged, they are able to gauge the audience's comprehension and interest, zigging and zagging when necessary, just like people do in everyday conversation.

That’s why we have redefined business presentations as Orderly Conversations.

They are orderly because they are planned to achieve a specific goal as efficiently as possible. They are conversations because their success depends on the give and take between presenter and audience.

Planning is about anticipating the conversation. Delivery is about adapting what was planned to the conversation taking place. 

So, what should you do if the speechmaking techniques listed above won’t work?

  • Focus on your audience instead of scripting and memorizing to reduce your nervousness. Once you and they are engaged in the conversation, nervousness will go away.
  • Give up practicing to be perfect. Use the time you have before your presentation to get flexible with your content. Think of different ways to explain your ideas—explanations you might be able to use in response to audience questions or concerns.
  • Don’t try to shock your audience or grab their attention. Focus on making sure that what you say when you begin is a natural extension to what came before. Maybe that means a reference to what just happened in the meeting room or what happened the last time this group met.
  • Create slides that are easy to deliver. Slides should serve you and your audience. If you create them with an eye toward delivery, you will keep them simple, readable and concise. Even if some of your slides are documents, you can still use them effectively to serve the conversation taking place.

Finally, remember that your business presentations are a process to be managed, not a product to be delivered. Approaching them as Orderly Conversations will help you do that.

Check our resource page for regular educational posts on topics like this and more.

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."