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Stephen Gower at ILEETA: Celebrating roadkill and butterflies

Looking a the five As, four tips, five rooms, and one word game that can help you to boost your survival training savvy

If you were given the word “roadkill,” could you develop a kick-in-the-butt roll call reminder? Given the words “rotten banana,” or “silly putty,” or “cold coffee,” or “hangnail,” or “septic tank,” what would you create?

That was the challenge posed by public speaking guru Stephen Gower at the recent ILEETA annual training conference in a class that proved to be as quirky as its title: “Celebrate the Butterflies.”

Gower’s presentation was intended to help police trainers be more comfortable — by quelling butterflies in their stomach — as well as be more creative and effective in their group instruction. One of his interactive exercises has memorable officer survival potential.

He divided the audience into twos and then arbitrarily assigned each pair an off-the-wall word or two around which they were to compose and present a brief but meaningful learning moment. My partner — Deputy Jaime Anderson of the Washington County (Ore.) Sheriff’s Office — and I drew “roadkill.”

Think of the teaching points you can get across by having your trainees conjure the image of a blood-and-guts highway splatter and reflect on the mindset of the victim critter as it headed toward its fatal encounter!

• Was the animal in Condition White — MAWOL, Mentally Absent Without Leave, as Ohio trainer Ron Borsch likes to put it — instead of alert, anticipating and looking for possible threat cues?

• Was it complacent, lulled into overconfidence or indifference by having crossed that roadway (or others like it) dozens of times before without incident?

• Did it fail to learn from the experience of its peers who had traveled the same path to oblivion, never to return?

• Did it feel immune from threat because “nothing ever happens” in its neighborhood or because it couldn’t imagine itself with itself in lethal jeopardy?

• Through a lack of situational awareness, did it not notice the change of environment from the protective concealment of roadside brush and weeds to the exposed expanse of concrete and consider the possible implications?

• Did it underestimate its enemy, figuring it could out run or out maneuver the determined vehicle that squashed it?

• Was it guilty of the John Wayne syndrome — rushing without tactical restraint into a kill zone?

• Once in harm’s way, did it consider a tactical retreat, or by then through the cumulative effect of one misjudgment after another was it so profoundly snared in danger that its fate was sealed?

Certainly there’s nothing new about these survival principles, but presented in Gower’s imaginative exercise format their importance can be freshly underscored, as can other basics when you play off of other core words.

However long your lesson turns out to be, Gower recommends that you conclude it with a pithy summation that “nails it.” And that’s possible here, too: “Roadkill — Dead Wrong!”

Whatever word or phrase you choose to build a lesson on, you can encourage your officers to use it as a reinforcement trigger anytime they encounter it for real. What committed officers who have heard your interpretation of roadkill, for example, are going to see a mangled carcass on their beat again and not be reminded of the life-saving considerations that they ought to be thinking about on a daily basis? And if you task your trainees to themselves come up with parables based on unlikely words, you’ll embed the memories even more deeply.

Gower, who has made more than 5,000 professional speaking engagements spanning 42 years, told the group he had never addressed a law enforcement audience until seven years ago. Now more than 90 percent of his appearances are before police. He has written a book called “Lessons Learned from the Nation’s Top Cops,” and he’ll be appearing at the annual IACP conference this fall in Orlando, Fla., talking about “Wounded Leaders.”

In his ILEETA presentation, Gower offered reassuring counsel to trainers who are nervous about the speaking demands of their training sessions. Despite his extensive experience, “I am always nervous,” he said. “You can’t kill or ignore nervous energy. Instead, see if you can turn it around so it works for you rather than against you.”

To make your butterflies work for you, Gower suggests four tips:

1. You have to pay the price of preparation. There is no substitute for having full command of your material.

2. When appropriate, use clean humor. Use humor that draws on your own foibles. This will help your audience see your human side and will put you more at ease because of the rapport you’ll establish with your trainees.

3. Use eye contact. This will help you get back your students’ energy. You need to both give and receive energy to maximize the power of your presentation.

4. Be real. “Don’t try to be something you’re not. Learn to speak from your heart and to have the courage to show who you really are,” Gower said.

You should move through what Gower calls the “five rooms” during any training session:

1. Introduction. This is a broad, clear outline of where you’re going to go and what your expectations are. “How do you want your students to feel and act when you are finished? This should excite them as well as educate them about what is to come.”

2. What. A specific description, presented step-by-step, of what is now going to be covered.

3. Why. Explain why this material is important. “If you don’t have a great ‘why,’ then you need a different ‘what’.”

4. How. How to do or use what you’re talking about.

5. Summary. This should tie back to and encapsulate #1. “In the end, you want a behavioral response from your trainees. They have to actually implement your information, not just hear it.”

Gower recommends faithfully tending to the “five As” to strengthen your abilities as a trainer:

1. Anticipate. “Expect that there will be problems. This lessens the sting when they inevitably arise.”

2. Accept. “Candidly acknowledge realities. This doesn’t mean you are powerless to change things.”

3. Analyze. “What choices were made that caused problems or shortcomings and how can I do something about it?”

4. Apply. “Put to work what you have learned.”

5. Appreciate. “Feel gratitude for what you have learned and accomplished through your training experience. Celebrate your ‘incremental finishes,’ your successes along the way. And remember that training is not an obligation but an opportunity.”

Stephen Gower, the Georgia-based author of more than 20 books, specializes in leadership training and team building. He can be reached at 800-242-7404 or 706-244-1906 or via email at: smg@stephengower.com.

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