The Missing Key to Improvement

“Where did I put my keys?” How many times has each of us forgotten that vital piece of information?

Unfortunately, many a speaker loses track of an important presentation key. It is assessing feedback—the third and most oft-neglected part of “The Three Keys to Great Presentations.”

I find these three keys invaluable when leading presentation skills training workshops. Most speakers seem to intuitively understand the importance of the first two keys—preparation and presentation. Sadly, assessing feedback is often left in the dust.

The missing key – assessing feedback

Assessing feedback is crucial to continually measuring performance. How can you possibly improve unless you undertake a conscious strategy to monitor how you did?

Listening Buddha

Everyone’s tried and true method of assessment is the evaluation form. You’ll stand out if you separate yourself from the pack of humdrum forms by customizing your evaluation. Think about it. You customize your presentation for each audience (don’t you?). It only makes sense to tailor your evaluation for each speech. An example: Do you have a standard form with blanks where you expect your audience to fill out the name of the organization, the date, and so forth? That’s bad form.

Here’s a tip that will position you as the speaker who goes the extra mile: Insert all the relevant information—such as the organization and the city in which you speak—and come prepared with as many forms as you will need. Your audience will see themselves as people who matter in your eyes if you show that you care enough to customize the evaluation form.


Tailor your method for each client

Don’t stop there. Continue to customize for each client. Consider this example: Many speakers ask for referrals at the bottom of their evaluation sheet. I sometimes do the very same thing—when circumstances permit. This can be a sensitive area for some clients. For instance, I recently conducted a media training workshop for a leading pharmaceutical manufacturer. They had worked with another consultant a few weeks earlier who had asked for referrals on her form. That took the client by surprise. Bad move. It turns out the company viewed her approach as tacky, took offense, and swore off hiring that individual again.

Properly used, evaluation forms can provide useful feedback. I certainly don’t want to belittle the value of this oldie-but-goodie technique. But if your measurement begins and ends with a one-page form, you are doing both you and your audience a disservice.

Listen to your audience

Another way you can gauge whether you are on the mark sounds obvious. Unfortunately, a lot of speakers fail to take the cue. While you are speaking, pay strict attention to your audience’s reaction. Don’t get so wrapped up in what you are saying that you ignore the nonverbal signs emitted by the crowd.


Are they paying attention, nodding their heads and smiling and making eye contact, for example? Or are they shifting in their seats, reading the newspaper, or, worse yet, walking out of the room? Also pay attention to what their questions tell you. Do they focus on your message, indicating they are hearing what you have to say? Or are their inquiries all over the map? Tuning in to these signals helps you improve your next presentation.

To further zero in on how you performed, mingle with your audience after your presentation. If I am part of a program, I always try to stay around until at least the next break. Not only does it demonstrate to the client that I care enough about their issue, it also gives me an opportunity to gently probe for feedback on how I did.

How’m I doin’?

Here’s another strategy that is often ignored: Call your client a few days after your presentation and ask some open-ended questions about how you did. For example, had there been more time, what areas would they like to have seen you cover?

What’s the bottom line? You know you’ve hit the jackpot when your client invites you back to speak at its next meeting.

Yes, assessing feedback is vital. Once you have the information in hand, you will find the key to continual improvement as a speaker. As you practice for future engagements, remember to fold in the treasure trove of feedback you have gained from the methods outlined above.

When it comes time for your next presentation, you won’t have to ask, “Where did I put my keys?”


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