My Mother’s Attic Part 3: The Elocutionists, a Cautionary Tale

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This is the final article about the perils of business presenters following the same path as the elocutionary movement.

The great thing about The Ideal Orator is that its approach, from our twenty-first-century perspective, is completely over the top. Anyone reading this book today would recognize its unnatural exaggeration of delivery behaviors, its focus on how a message should be delivered apart from what that message is.

What the book helps us see, though, is something much more subtle. Whenever a prescriptive approach is applied to something as individual and spontaneous as business presentations, we run into trouble.

Here’s what I mean.

  1. The Orderly Conversation that should take place between you and your listeners becomes a performance. Performances are very controlled things. They are not driven by the connection between you and your audience. Instead, they are driven by the plan that was made in advance. When you perform, you take yourself out of the conversation.
  2. The search for the rules governing the presentation process is a perfectly understandable thing. Rules make things easier. The thing is, presenters need to discover their own rules, not follow the rules for someone else. The rules you follow are determined by who you are and the habits you’ve developed. When you follow rules that aren’t right for you, you will feel and look uncomfortable. Maybe not as uncomfortable as the kids in my mother’s elocution classes, but uncomfortable nevertheless.
  3. When business presenters deliver a performance or attempt to follow one-size-fits-all rules, they undercut their ability to make decisions in the moment. If you’ve participated in one of our workshops, you know that engaging listeners is one of the most important processes we work on. When you’re engaged, everything you do is a response to what’s happening with your audience.

As you know, Turpin’s tagline is “Find your focus. Be yourself. Only better.” So the next time you’re looking for rules governing delivery, make sure you’re focusing on what works for you, what helps you feel comfortable, and what gives you the control you need to manage the twists and turns of the Orderly Conversation.

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About the Author: 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 of providing the best presentation and facilitation skills training available. Since then, he has worked to do just that. In addition to being one of Turpin’s lead instructors, Dale is our Chief Learning Architect when tailoring learning engagements for our clients. He holds a Bates ExPI™ (Executive Presence Index) coaching certification. Dale is a frequent blogger and the co-author of “The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined,” “The Virtual Orderly Conversation,” and Effective SMEs: A Trainer’s Guide to Helping Subject Matter Experts Facilitate Learning,” all written with Turpin’s VP, Greg Owen-Boger.

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