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3 Types of Feedback for Speakers


By Bob Goodyear

Feedback is an interesting word and for a speaker it can be good or bad. If we’re using a sound system, feedback is bad. Audience feedback however can be good, but it depends on what we do with it. Let’s talk about the 3 different kinds of audience feedback that affect us as speakers. Two of the types we know but the third is maybe the most important.

Positive Feedback

When we finish a speech, many times we meet with members of the audience and hear what a great job we did. We love to hear that we were awesome in the room. Let’s face it. Many of us really enjoy being in front of a group of people and talking about what we know. While this kind of feedback makes us feel good, perhaps it doesn’t make us much better. It’s good to know that our message is received positively, but it may not improve our speaking overall.

Constructive Feedback

Again, when we finish a speech, sometimes we may have audience members come up to us to give us “constructive feedback.” I’ve been in that situation many times, and I will tell you that occasionally it’s tough to hear. While I love to hear the positive feedback, the constructive feedback can be deflating. The other side of the coin, however, is that it can really help us improve. This is how we grow. By receiving this feedback, we can change something that we didn’t realize we are doing

For example, I spoke one time in Korea as a keynoter for a major technical conference. Before the presentation, I met with my translator who would be doing a simultaneous translation for the audience. They would all be wearing headsets to hear the translation. My translator asked me to deliver a few lines of my presentation. I did so and immediately she gave me feedback that I spoke too fast. In order for her to make the translation the best for the audience, she asked me to slow down the delivery a bit. From that day on, this piece of feedback has helped me tremendously whenever I have spoken to a group that needed a translator.

On-stage Feedback

This is the feedback many times we miss. What I’m talking about here is watching our audience and getting their reactions to what we are doing or saying. This is the hardest type to accept and react to. When we are speaking, we need to gauge the audience’s reaction and then adjust to what we see or hear. Flexibility is key.

I remember speaking to a group of 30 technical salespeople about some concepts regarding computer storage. I jumped into my presentation and started talking very quickly about things that this group probably already knew. I used common words like LUNs, HDDs and SSDs assuming that everyone understood these common acronyms. After about 10 minutes I noticed that many people in the room were looking puzzled and their eyes had glazed over. I stopped and asked how everyone was doing. I did a quick survey and found out that many in the room were completely lost because they did not understand the terms I used. Given this feedback, I reset my thinking and completely changed what I talked about on the spot.

As speakers we crave the positive feedback, sometimes cringe at the constructive feedback, and many times forget the on-stage feedback. Let’s make sure that we always keep the audience first in our minds when we speak and be aware of what they are feeding back to us.

Bob Goodyear is a veteran speaker on technology who understands the communications challenges that technical professionals face. Find out how Bob can help your organization with its presentation. Reach Bob by email or by phone at 404.790.5855.