Orderly Conversation
ATD Blog

The Orderly Conversation: 4 Ways to Make Presenting to Leadership Easier

Thursday, April 7, 2016

As talent development professionals, it’s essential for us to communicate effectively both inside and outside the training room. Our success and reputation depend on it. Too often—especially when communicating to business leadership—we miss the mark. We might fail to speak the language of the business, frustrating our listeners. Sometimes we’re not as efficient as we should be, wasting others’ time and goodwill.

These problems are not unique to learning and development, of course. But they are especially acute for us because we are always struggling to earn and keep a seat at the leadership table.

This blog post will focus on four things we can do to redefine business presentations and make presenting to leadership easier, more efficient, and more effective.

1. Define Success in a New Way

The business presentations we deliver, no matter how formal or informal they may be, are a unique form of communication. While they involve careful preparation and planning, they need to be spontaneous and interactive when delivered. This means that planning must look ahead to the uncertainties of delivery, and that the plan itself must be constantly adjusted as the conversation takes place.

For these reasons, presentations must be seen as Orderly Conversations. By defining them in this way, we are not only able to embrace the tensions inherent in the process, but we are also able to define success more specifically.

An Orderly Conversation succeeds on two levels. On one level, success is determined by whether the specific goal of the presentation is reached. Did the audience agree, buy in, or understand? On another level, the presenter must manage the conversation effectively. Was it efficient? Did the presenter manage the give-and-take well? When these second-level goals are reached, trust and goodwill are established.

Success, then, is not defined by having delivered a perfect presentation. It’s about managing the process efficiently so that decisions are made and work gets done.


2. Figure Out How to Prepare Yourself

Preparing for an Orderly Conversation cannot involve scripting. Too often, this speechmaking technique is applied to a process that requires a much more flexible approach. What’s needed is a solid yet flexible frame, one that will bring order to the conversation without squelching it.

The frame for the conversation provides listeners with four things:  

  1. A sense of purpose. What is the goal of the presentation? What does the presenter want to accomplish?  
  2. A sense of direction. What is the agenda? How will we proceed?  
  3. Context. What is the current situation? What problem is the presentation attempting to solve?  
  4. A reason to participate. What’s in it for the listeners? What’s the benefit of listening to or doing what the presenter is asking them to do?

Once this frame is communicated—as concisely as possible—listeners are much more likely to trust the presenter to manage the conversation to come.

3. Know How to Initiate and Manage the Presentation Process


A genuine conversation between you and your listeners requires a high level of engagement on both sides of the process. We define engagement as a strong connection to listeners along with the ability to think and respond appropriately to the twists and turns of the conversation.

When this degree of interaction occurs, presenters have to do all they can to encourage the conversation while keeping it on track. When they succeed, they will balance the needs of the individuals in the room and the group as a whole.

4. Manage Our Response to the Presentation Process

Because of the tension between the orderly and the conversational aspects of presentations, most presenters have a preference for one part of the process over the other. We call these preferences Default Approaches. If your preference is for the orderly side of the process, we call you a Writer. If you are more comfortable with the conversational side of presentations, you are an Improviser.

This is a useful distinction because it helps presenters know where to focus their energies. Writers need to let go of their need for complete control in order to let the conversation take its course. Improvisers need to trust the frame of the conversation and do what’s needed to stay within it. Managing your Default helps you keep your gut-level responses to the process in check and avoid knee-jerk reactions.

By redefining presentations in this way, we are better able to understand their role in business, how to prepare for them, and manage the give-and-take of their delivery. All of which leads to a process that is more efficient and effective for everyone.

About the Author

Greg Owen-Boger is the vice president of Turpin Communication. He was schooled in management and the performing arts and joined Turpin in 1995 as a workshop videographer. He quickly worked his way up, and now serves as account manager, trainer, and coach for a broad range of Turpin’s clients. He is a frequent blogger and popular conference speaker. He is also co-author of The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined. Greg served as the 2015 president of the Chicagoland Chapter of the Association for Talent Development, and is among many thought leaders who contributed to Master Presenter: Lessons From the World’s Top Experts on Becoming a More Influential Speaker.

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