The Often Neglected Third Key—Assessing Feedback

The vast majority of presenters focus on Performance, the second of the Three Keys to Great Presentations. Preparation, the first key, comes in a distant second. Sadly, most neglect the vital third key—Assessing Feedback.

Measuring how you performed is vital to your continued improvement as a speaker. Why? Because better speakers get better results. They convince more people more readily. They are more effective educators. They rise to the top of the corporate ladder. They win the respect of their colleagues and competitors. You may have a different goal in mind. Regardless, leaders tend to be effective presenters.

Just as the first chair in the orchestra is won by the violinist who absorbs the master’s teachings year after year, the standout leader gains knowledge from a trusted consultant who can sharpen her speaking skills over time.

It is a well-worn maxim: You need to know where you want to go before you can plan how to get there. That same principle applies to assessing feedback.

Decide what your speaking goals are. Aim for goals that are measurable and reachable. Then write them down and review them before every presentation you deliver. This makes them more concrete and achievable.

Next, envision what will change. How will you look and sound that differs from your present image? Is your intent to persuade, educate, or inform a key audience? Keeping these types of specific goals in mind helps you both to assess feedback and to clarify your ambitions.

Strike a balance with your speaking goals. If you set the bar too low, you won’t be challenged sufficiently. If you attempt to reach for the stars, you will end up frustrated and your improvement curve will flatten out, and perhaps even dip downward.

The goals of a novice speaker vs. a polished presenter will diverge. As a beginner, you may be satisfied simply to stride to the front of the room, complete your speech, and walk offstage in one piece. If you are a speaking pro, you may decide to sharpen your vocal pitch to a fine point or concentrate on using props more effectively.

Work hard to ensure that your goals are the right ones for you. If you find yourself struggling with this aspect of assessing feedback, an expert coach can help you clarify your specific objectives and work to attain them.

An experienced training consultant is sensitized to your individual needs. Spend some time with this person beforehand to ensure a good match. You do not, for instance, want someone who is accustomed to dealing only with volunteers from a local non-profit board if you are CEO of a Fortune 500 operation.

Of equal importance, you should seek out a good match from a personality standpoint. For better or worse, there are people who grate on our nerves for no apparent reason. Then there are those who we get along with swimmingly no matter how rough the sledding becomes. Hire someone with whom you are comfortable. If your advisor is working diligently to improve your performance, expect him to offer advice that will in some cases lead to a bit of personal discomfort. It is not easy for some of us to hear the unvarnished truth. A strong bond will see you through those times.

Once you have selected your consultant, bring him along on a speaking engagement or two and ask him to offer immediate feedback. Like shopping for vegetables, advice is best when it is fresh. Arrange for a debriefing session right after your presentation.

How do you gain feedback after your presentations? What “secret sauce” approaches have you used?




  1. Thanks for your comments, Grace. Excellent point about getting feedback on the feedback. As you indicate, clarifications or confirmations of understanding may well be in order.

    Your comment got me to thinking about another issue regarding feedback on feedback: Consider the source. Nearly all feedback is valuable and appreciated, though if the source is antagonistic (anything from a competitor to a just-plain-ornery individual) it’s wise to view it through that lens.

  2. Grace Klinefelter · · Reply

    Ed – Very interesting post. Feedback communicates something about the “giver” as well as the “receiver”. So it is important to present it in a way that reflects the reviewer’s perceptions. I think it is also good to get feedback on the feedback. Receivers of feedback should have the opportunity to confirm their understanding of the comments and/or ask for clarification. Then they can develop strategies for improvement or celebrate their effectiveness. It’s about lifelong learning and open mindsets.

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