The Power of Positive Reinforcement

Friendly Assassins

Last year at the ISSM, I gave a presentation called “Friendly Assassins and Enemy Plants.” This refers to fact that many presenters often face their biggest hurdle when they are rehearsing in front of a critical leader/boss/coach. There to help and encourage, the presenter’s team often winds up breaking their spirit by nit-picking too much and failing to mention what was done well. Most people couch the feedback with, “Great (insert positive qualifier), but…” and then a list of mistakes.

What the Presenter Hears

Now from the presenter’s view of the world, next time he takes to his feet he will forget the positive qualifier and focus on correcting the list of mistakes. Unfortunately, this usually winds up backfiring – rather than focusing on the story or the sale at hand, the presenter preoccupied with avoiding errors.

Of course some presenters are naturally good and confident. They take negative feedback and turn it into a constructive critique that fuels a better performance. However, most people are not professional presenters and it’s very hard to be positive in the face of a list of gaffs. Especially if the critique came from your Boss, or your Boss’s boss.

Making Criticism Constructive

The next time you have the opportunity to provide feedback on a presentation, here’s some ways to ensure your feedback has a good impact:

  • Listen for the good stuff and make notes about what worked well
  • Commend the presenter on cool sound bites, interactions, rhetorical questions, pauses – all the components of a great presentation
  • Carefully select the areas you believe the presenter should focus on improving
  • Sandwich the critique between to positive reinforcements
  • Always use constructive comments – say, “it might be better if you said it like this…” rather than “Don’t say that.”

Providing good, positive feedback is a skill that takes practice and thought, especially for busy executives who are coaching their teams. This is the secret sauce for successful presentations though – presenters need to have confidence in their message and delivery, and who better to help them get it than the boss?

Enemy Plants can be the subject of another blog, another day.

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