How to more effectively use feedback to develop your new presentation

Do you rehearse new talks in front of a test audience? Even if your guinea pigs offer no feedback whatsoever, practicing with real people can reveal a heap of things to improve. (The final version of my TEDx talk was nothing like my first live run.)

There are, of course, risks to a preview. One significant risk is that you get feedback you’re not able to deal with. This could be because you don’t have time to implement the suggestions, or because it makes you doubt everything you’re doing. After seeing two speakers recently become distressed by feedback from well-meaning friends and colleagues, I’d like to offer tips to help you use comments from a test audience strategically and effectively.

1. People like to be helpful. Sometimes too helpful.

Most people love to be asked for their opinion. So be prepared that if you ask for their opinion, they may well tell you things. Lots of things. That may or may not be relevant. It’s up to you to guide the discussion so you get what you need.

2. Know why you want feedback.

Before you present to your test audience, reflect on what you want feedback for, and how much you can handle. For example, do you want the audience to be honest if they hate your content? If the talk is in 2 hours perhaps all you want is reassurance and a hug.

3. Give your test audience some context.

As a speaker coach, I know that critiquing a ready-made talk is difficult: it’s much easier to build a good house from the foundations up, than fix a completed building if the plans are shabby. (Engineering metaphors begin!) Speakers looking for last-minute feedback will often say to me, “Rachael, give me any feedback you like. I’m really open.” You can probably imagine the problems with this! It’s a bit like if I asked you what colour I should paint my house, without telling you that I hate white walls, my lounge room gets no sunlight, and I want to feel like a rockstar after work.

4. At minimum, tell your test audience who the talk is for and what you want to achieve.

Getting specific about the feedback you want will also help avoid comments that are too vague to be useful. (“That was great, Lionel,” is encouraging but you can’t do much with it.) The first thing I do with speakers I’m coaching is a strategic inquiry into all elements that will influence its effectiveness, including audience, business trajectory and professional aspirations. They aren’t allowed to think about writing their talk before this is done. Your test audience needs some of this context. Here’s an example: “Imagine you are a group of early career IT professionals who hate public speaking. My aim is that you understand how a strategic and embodied approach to communication will give you better project results.”

5. Ignore solutions. Look for root cause. (Engineering metaphor #2!)

To help you decide which suggestions to implement, do a bit of root cause analysis. There may be more to the feedback than is first apparent. As example, one of my speakers recently tested a talk for a technical product on some colleagues. They told him he shouldn’t talk so much about himself. My speaker’s first reaction was to re-write his talk: he removed the personal story and focused solely on technical features of his product. This new version was, unsurprisingly, dry. When I encouraged him to get to the bottom of why they thought he should talk less about himself, he found that his colleagues were worried that the audience (who would be from outside the company) would want to know more technical details. With this in mind, we were able to appropriately add technical elements, without losing the benefits of storytelling.

6. When you follow a strategic approach to speaking, what at first feels like a major overhaul can often be solved with a simple tweak

When a suggestion makes you feel like you need to re-write your entire talk, ask your audience, “Why do you say that?” Remember that only you have full context for the long term impact you want your presentation to have. It’s up to you to own the process for getting the result you intend.

Rachael West is a strategic speaker coach, facilitator and social entrepreneur. Sign up to the blog via the link on this page for insights on speaking for long term impact.

Photo credit: Fauxels

Through the eyes of a clown: the art of facilitation

A Perth version of Clowning for Facilitators will be running on January 12.  For a word that wasn’t in use not so many years ago, facilitator gets bandied around a bit.  In this workshop we use the art of Clown to get you, the facilitator or communicator, connected with the intangible part of your work.  How do you develop your ability to read the energy in the room and convince a bunch of engineers or bankers that drawing a picture of a tree on yet another post-it note really is worth their while?  How do you develop the confidence that you will get your group wherever they need to be – even when things seem to be going completely wrong? Continue reading “Through the eyes of a clown: the art of facilitation”

Capitalism is the new activism: big business and media lead the way to social and environmental change

Late last year I had the pleasure of meeting with Sophie Tranchell, Managing Director of Divine Chocolate  and an activist at heart. Armed with management experience in the film industry, Sophie arrived at Divine ready to merge her passion for social transformation with good business sense, understanding that the market has the power to bring about massive change and that creativity and communications are the key to people’s hearts. Continue reading “Capitalism is the new activism: big business and media lead the way to social and environmental change”

What happens when you attend a digital media conference with an old-school mobile phone?

FutureGov’s Gov 2 Gov conference at Canada House had superb chandeliers, live tweeting, and an opportunity to discuss social media as a tool for government engagement.

Given it was a conference on digital media, it’s not surprising everyone I spoke to was surprised I didn’t have internet access on my old-school Nokia.

What did I learn?

1. Issues for strategic thinkers in digital engagement are the same I come across (and subsequently beat down with a sledge hammer) in my work in other sectors: forgetting to ask:  ‘Why are we doing this?’, ‘Who are we doing it for?’ and ‘What is the best way to do it?’,  before diving in.

2. Digital media and the potential for mass collaboration is a fabulous way in to ask strategic questions.  It’s the perfect combination of geeky and cool; most people want to be a part of it before they fall behind; and those who think it’s ‘never going to catch on’ will be the ideal antagonist for office debate – and will eventually be telling the rest of the world that they were a part of it all from the very beginning.