Social Green Lights

skepticalIs the woman on the left interested in what you are saying? Or is she skeptical?

How can you tell?


I find that very often creatives live very much inside of their own heads.  WE know what we are doing and creating and thinking about.  But sometimes we are called upon to explain it to someone else.

For most creatives, myself included, translating complicated stories or projects or technologies to someone else is really a challenge.

But we labor under an assumption and that assumption is that we will be doing all the talking.  Read “Death to the Elevator Pitch’ for more on that. 

But – how do you know whether your listener is interested? How do you know when you should pause, slow down or maybe even stop explaining?

You must be an observer of social signals – of social green and red lights.

Red Lights are things like:

  • A loss of eye contact – with you or even in your general direction, that lasts for more than a few seconds.
  • A distinct lack of questions or comments about what you are saying.
  • Body language: is your listener leaning away from you? Do they have his or her arms over their chest? Are they shifting in their seat frequently?

Your listener is disengaged. Maybe completely – they just don’t like your idea. Or maybe because you have momentarily confused them or lost their interest.

So what do you do? How do you reverse the situation?

Be observant. Notice that the level of engagement has changed. Slow down, change it up and ask a question like:

-Does that make sense to you?

-Do you have any questions?

Or you might shift to a different focus of your story or project, you might compare it to something the listener is already familiar with, you might say:

-in Taken, when Liam Neeson turns the tables on the kidnappers, I really want to use that dynamic in my story because….


-in the same way that Twitter started small and was a strange innovation that surprised everybody, I want to…

Now you have introduced a new element, something that your listener can possibly comment on or relate to.

If you see a red light, a change in the engagement of your listener, as subtle as body language or as overt as eye contact, see this as an opportunity to get your listener back on the page by asking a question and engaging him or her in the conversation. Does he or she use Twitter? Wasn’t Taken an exciting film? Change it up and renew the engagement before proceeding.

Don’t, whatever you do, just soldier on when you seem to have lost the interest or engagement of your listener.

Green Lights are things like:

  • Leaning toward you, elbows on his or her desk (or the bar. it happens.)
  • Making and maintaining eye contact.
  • Facial expressions that shift like smiling, frowning, or a questioning look.

Most of us know exactly what it feels and looks like when we have lost somebody’s attention. It’s the same set of signals whether it is in your personal life or in business. When it comes to connecting, the two aren’t really that different.

In acting and in writing we know that characters always have an agenda. They want something. So do people in actual life. Whether what they want is to marry, or date or buy a new car or get groceries. Life is transactional.

Your listener in a business situation wants something too. A deal. A new project. For your project to be their money-making success.

Use the same social and conversational skills in business that you do in your normal life. Okay okay so you won’t be wearing flip-flops and a tee shirt but you are in a transactional exchange. Is your listener interested? Would they like to hear more? If they seem not to be, can you swiftly change that by changing up what you are saying and moving on to a point of greater interest?

Or is it time to gracefully wrap it up and try again another day?

Know your social skills and presenting your pitch, idea or project will be easy.

Read More On Facial Expressions and Body Language:

Five tips on how to read facial expressions.

Body Language is King.




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