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Asking for Feedback and Using it Constructively

By: Angelique Caffrey - Updated: 27 Nov 2010 | comments*Discuss
Evaluations; Feedback; Audience; Speech;

One of the most difficult aspects of public speaking is asking for feedback… and then actually using it. After all not every piece of feedback is given in a positive spirit. In fact, some of it can downright sting on first hearing or reading.

Still, if you want to increase your speech composing and delivering acumen, you must be willing to suspend your discomfort in order to become a better presenter.

Below are a few hints to help turn constructive (or even semi-constructive) criticisms into instruments for change:

1. Learn to Separate Objective from Subjective Comments
If you’re examining an audience member’s evaluation and see the sentence: “I did not like this presenter at all,” your first thought might be, “I was horrible!” However, don’t be too hard on yourself. This evaluation comment, though perhaps true from the writer’s perspective, is completely subjective and hardly beneficial.

On the other hand, a comment such as: “Presenter spoke too rapidly which made it difficult to follow along,” carries much more weight because it contains valuable, objective data. Perhaps you actually WERE talking too quickly, in which case you can make an effort to slow your tempo in future presentations.

By diligently separating subjective comments from objective ones (the former are typically opinions, whereas the latter usually contain specific facts), you’ll be better able to apply useful statements and simply overlook unhelpful ones.

2. Evaluate Yourself after Every Speech
Don’t only rely on others to provide you with feedback; instead, be willing to look inside yourself and candidly answer the question, “Did I do the best job that I possibly could?” It’s this kind of introspection that separates good presenters from great ones.

And let’s face it, only you can honestly respond to pointed queries such as:

  • Did I really spend enough time researching the material?
  • What would I do differently if I had this speech to give over again?
  • Did I give 100% or was I “holding back” at any points?
  • Did I seem to “lose” the audience’s attention… or even my own interest?
These are the kinds of questions that very strong public speakers ask themselves. You don’t have to write the answers down or even say them aloud, but do be truthful with yourself in an effort to improve.

3. Plant an Evaluator in Your Audience
Have a friend, loved one, or colleague who will agree to give you specific feedback on your presentation? Then plant him or her in the audience and have a “debriefing session” after the conclusion of the speech.

Chances are, he or she will be able to provide you with some incredibly insightful constructive criticism. And because you have given him or her the “go ahead” to be straightforward, you can be certain that any comments will be geared toward helping you improve, not hurting your feelings.

Again, you should only take this route of performance analysis if you can unemotionally accept assessments from someone close to you. (If you are one to hold grudges, this may not be the best technique for gathering data, as you’ll likely become frustrated by the process.)

4. Create Your Own Evaluation Handout
After you’ve been presenting for a while, you’ll have a deeper understanding of the kinds of feedback you find most useful.

When you reach this juncture, there’s nothing wrong with developing your own audience member evaluation handout. This way, you can design it with your future improvement in mind, asking questions that will help you become the best public speaker possible.

And remember—don’t be afraid to break through your barriers and take a few risks. Getting feedback can seem difficult, but it can only make you a more proficient public speaker.

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