The Gulps and the Good of Seeking Feedback
by Claudia Brogan
It is highly tempting to live inside a little bubble about how we’re doing when delivering our presentations. It is just so appealing to use a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to how things are going, so we just leave well enough alone.
I happen to believe that we can each keep getting better each time we speak: as we polish our skills and practice our delivery, we can strengthen and fine-tune our abilities as a speaker. Tempting as it may be to stay in our comfort zone, for instance, and to deliver a comfortable speech over and over again, there are so many more rewards if we approach speaking as an upward spiral, to get better and better. Asking for feedback can help us stay fresh and focused; help us give our best gutsy effort.
Ask yourself this: When was the last time that you intentionally sought feedback about your professional delivery or speaking skills? If the answer is that it has been quite a while, it’s likely that is because feedback was poorly delivered to you in the past. Perhaps in your own experience, you can recall a boss, colleague or respected friend who gave harsh criticism, or provided you a lengthy laundry list of “sins to correct.” Or perhaps they gave a big thumbs-down to a joke you used in a presentation or a story and it felt to you like a personal slam.
The art of giving good feedback is to focus on a speaker’s behavior or delivery, not on personal characteristics or traits. Consider right now who might be someone you could request feedback from: is there a co-worker who can be fair and observant, or a friend who would be a great listener as you practice for your next presentation? I am lucky enough to have found an excellent Advanced Toastmasters club where I regularly muster my bravery to seek feedback about a presentation I’m practicing. Daunting as it may be, the practice of showing vulnerability by standing to seek feedback can yield you a flood of new ideas and perspective, like holding up a mirror to show you what you’re doing well and where there is room for improvement.
Truthfully, in my early years as a practicing presenter, I often felt even more fearful of listening to the feedback than I was of delivering the speech in the first place! I felt defensive and wanted to explain or deflect each comment that was made.
Bit by bit, though, I have learned to stand quietly and listen to the suggestions offered for improving my speaking skills. When I can be humble and honestly aim to make improvements, I can hear helpful tips and monumental lessons for how to be better next time. Also, we all need to be told, what we are doing especially well; it seems that we never grow out of the need for a compliment here or there, to reinforce our best skills.
Feedback is most effective when there are written comments to supplement the verbal comments that are made to you. That way, you can study the comments and digest the suggestions to capture the most helpful spirit they were offered in.
Many coaches and supervisors use a ‘sandwich’ approach when providing feedback. Consider asking for this from a ‘practice-partner’ in order to improve your own speaking: After your speech (whether live-observation or a practice session), have the listener begin by giving a sincere, specific example of a behavior, a quote, an example of what the speaker has done well. Then have the listener offer a few tangible, descriptive examples of constructive criticism for things to improve. Not a bucket of items all pouring out, but a few well-chosen, clear tips for this presentation. Finally, have the listener close by giving a sincere, specific description of a statement or behavior that was effective.
“Feedback is your friend,” says consultant Suzie Price on her recent Wake Up Eager podcast. “Remember that feedback needs to be delivered in a way that the person can receive.”
Give me some things to work on, let me gulp and keep getting better! That is surely the best way for me to keep improving and be an even better presenter next time.
Claudia Brogan is a speaker, trainer and facilitator who helps organizations by coaching presenters, leading collaborative meetings and problem-solving with groups and teams. Reach out to see how she can help you.