Make It About the Green, Not Red

I remember back in elementary school, lining up in gym, tensing all my muscles, just waiting for the teacher to yell, “GREEN LIGHT!” I’d take off as fast as I could trying to cover as much distance as I could before I heard “RED LIGHT!” I hated the red light. I just wanted to run.

Recently, I was teaching one of our Executive Presentation Style and Delivery classes.  This is a class where participants are asked to stand and deliver short stories and presentations. We record each person and then watch and listen back. Each participant sees and hears what the audience sees and hears, and it is amazing how much each person learns about their own style when they deliver messages.

It was the final recording of the day. One of the men in the class stood up, ready to go. I asked him, “what are you focused on improving this time?” He said “I’m going to stop swaying back and forth and not say um.” I immediately thought, “look for the green light.” I gently prodded him, “what are you going to do instead?”

To Improve Your Executive Presentation Style and Delivery, Look for the Green Lights

Every time we watch and listen to recordings in our Style and Delivery class, participants will see or hear things they don’t like. Often times these are vocal and physical behaviors that they aren’t aware they’re doing. Suddenly they really want to stop doing it. They want to STOP saying “um,” STOP swaying, STOP going up at the end of sentences, STOP speaking quickly with no pauses— so many things they want to STOP doing. Lots of red lights.

What we know from teaching these classes to hundreds of people: it’s hard to just STOP.

I have heard of other classes, similar to ours, that help with presentation skills and use recordings for feedback. I had one woman tell me about taking a class like this that left her in tears. When I asked what happened, she said “they picked me apart and after the class I felt so self-conscious, I could barely get up to deliver presentations. There was so much I SHOULDN’T be doing.”

I felt for her, when you focus on all the stuff you want to STOP, it’s hard NOT to feel self-conscious. The class she had taken had only gotten her half way— she knew what not to do, but had no idea what to do about it. In our class, I encouraged her to START doing something else. We had to look for the green lights.

By putting her attention on what she wanted to do, she was able to be proactive. And, because the new behavior was well chosen, that thing she wanted to STOP? It disappeared. No more red lights— just green.

P.S. I use this technique all the time outside of presentation skills. Whenever I find myself thinking about what I don’t want, I ask myself, what DO I want?

If you want to join me at my next class, register now for the Content Framing and Storytelling session on December 7.