How, exactly do we collect feedback on a presentation? Are there ways to solicit feedback that will help us grow as speakers? The answer is, absolutely, YES! However, the way that you typically ask for feedback may not be the best way to gain confidence as a speaker. In fact, many traditional feedback techniques can actually make you more nervous. In addition, speakers will sometimes make adjustments to their delivery based on anecdotal issues. This can start a snowball effect that leads to terrible presentation skills.
A Funny Example of How Feedback Can Throw You Off Your Game.
A few years after I started The Leaders Institute ®, I was asked to be a keynote speaker at a quarterly meeting. The group loved my presentation so much, they hired me to come back in the next quarter as well. After the second speech, members of the group came to the front of the room and thanked me. They shook my hand and complimented me over and over. I felt really good about the presentation. The last woman to speak to me, though, was the founder of the association. She was long retired from the industry, but since she was the founder, she was still quite involved in the meetings. Just like the other attendees, she started with a nice compliment.
She said, "I really enjoyed your speech! The group had so much fun listening to you. Do you mind if I give you some critical feedback, though?"
I nodded, so she continued. "I've noticed that a few times during the speech, you 'double-clutched.' My Toastmasters group can probably help you with that."
I smiled and thanked her for the feedback. However, I didn't change anything that I was doing as a speaker as a result of the comment. There were over 100 people in the audience. Dozens of these people told me how great the presentation was. The group liked my delivery so much that they paid a fee for me to speak to them... TWICE. And, I got a single, anecdotal, comment to make a change. Most speakers would make a change because of the comment. I didn't.
Traditional Ways to Collect Feedback on a Presentation
- Printed Exit Survey from the Audience
The most common way to solicit feedback is through a survey. As a professional speaker, though, I have found that this technique is the least helpful. Surveys basically tell you if your audience liked you. They typically don't let you know how well you presented.
In the early days of our presentation skills class, we surveyed every graduate. I used the surveys as a way to measure instructor effectiveness.
Out of the blue, I got a phone call from a class member who wanted a partial tuition refund. When I asked him to clarify, he said, "Well, the instructor let us out of class 30 minutes early each day. I want a refund for the missed time." It was a weird request, so I did some investigating.
I looked at past surveys from this guy's instructor. The exit surveys for the instructor were all top-notch. I decided to set up an audit of this instructor's next class. Turns out that the instructor wasn't following our instructor guidelines. His class members weren't getting the massive reduction in public speaking fear that we promised. However, they had no way of knowing this. They liked the instructor, so they gave him high marks on the surveys. The results they received were subpar, though.
- Collect Feedback on a Presentation from Friends or Coworkers
This type of feedback on a presentation can also be detrimental. Remember that when we ask a friend, coworker, or boss for "feedback," they think we want "criticism." Most of the time, these people mean well, but they will want to help you improve. So, even if you did well, they will try to find some way to help you get better. Many of these suggestions can be counter-effective. These suggestions can have the speaker focus on symptoms versus fixing problems.
For instance, if a speaker talks faster when he/she is nervous, a friend might suggest to slow down. However, this is a symptom of nervousness. Slowing down will just make the person more conscious of the nervousness. So, the nervousness will likely show up in a multitude of additional symptoms.
An analogy for this would be if your "Check Engine" light comes on. You can crawl under the dashboard and snip the electric wire to the light. The light will go off. The problem with the engine will still be there.
It is better to ask these friends for more specific feedback. "Did what I say make sense?" or "Was what I said easy to understand?"
- Self-Criticism from Video Presentation Feedback
This final type of feedback is the most detrimental. We are our own worst critic. So, I would never encourage you to video yourself as a way to improve your presentation performance. You will knit-pick every negative thing that you see about yourself. When we conduct video feedback in our presentation seminars, we focus on the positive. If you focus on your natural strengths, you will grow as a speaker. If you focus on your weaknesses, they will grow.
How to Collect Feedback on a Presentation that Will Increase Your Presentation Skills
If you want better feedback on your presentation skills, here are a few that work every time!
- The Way Your Audience Reacts to You Is a Much Better Way to Judge Your Effectiveness
This is the main reason why I didn't make any changes when the founder of the association gave me feedback. Over a dozen people came to me to personally thank me for the speech. That feedback was way more important than the criticism. My advice is to look around the room as you speak.
Are audience members on their cellphones? If so, you are likely less interesting to them than what they are looking at. You should change something.
Are people getting up and leaving the room. If so, you have likely spoken too long without giving them a break.
Are they looking at you and nodding when you speak? If so, you are probably doing really well. They are agreeing with you and paying attention.
- Visual Feedback from Friends or Coworkers.
Although the verbal feedback from friends and coworkers can throw you off, the visual feedback can be helpful. One of the tips we give folks in our classes is to practice your presentation with a partner. (We do this in our classes before most presentations.) As you run through your presentation with another person, you get to see how they react. When you say things that they understand, they nod in agreement. When you say something confusing, their facial expressions will change. This allows you to alter and adapt your delivery.
If you practice alone, you don't get this important feedback on a presentation.
- Get Feedback on a Presentation from a Professional Coach.
Eventually, you may get to a point where you want some professional help with presentations. Investing in a good presentation can be a wise decision. If you have a big presentation where a lot is on the line, feedback from an independent third-party can help.
This is the way that I began helping companies with "shortlist" presentations. A company in Houston had a series of high-level sales presentations which amounted to millions of dollars. They wanted someone outside of their company to help them deliver the best presentations possible. After helping them with a few of these, I got better and better as a coach. In fact, we went on a run where we won about 12 of these presentations in a row.
People who attend our presentation training classes often come for this type of coaching as well. They have a big presentation coming up and want to do their best. So a class can be a good way to get access to a professional coach without the expense of one-on-one coaching.
Good Feedback Helps You Improve. Bad Feedback Can Stunt Your Growth
The main point here is that if you solicit feedback from a credible source, you can improve.
However, if you request feedback on your presentation from a poor source, you can actually stunt your growth. Positive changes to your presentation delivery can be helpful. Negative changes can instill bad habits that will be tougher to overcome later.