Tuesday, July 5, 2011

7 Rules of Taking Feedback

Do you have an audience to practice your next big speech, or are you relying on the feedback of your reflection, your dog, or your kids collection of stuffed animals?

While a lot of people say that they don't need practice, I say a lot of people just don't WANT to practice. Ask their audiences if they wish they'd practiced! Practice in front of inanimate object can only do so much - you want to get in front of real people. Real people provide two major benefits - a more realistic practice setting, and the opportunity for feedback.

There are more options to get feedback than you might think. For me, I tend to use Toastmasters - sometimes just the clubs I'm in, other times local clubs that are willing to hear a guest speaker. But there are other options as well. Gathering friends and family for pizza or a BBQ and asking them to listen can work. Ask people at your church to come over and hear you prepare. I bet you could even find a coach or two online willing to offer you some advice...

While feedback will vary person to person and audience to audience, your goal isn't to have your audience construct your speech for you, as much as point out major structural errors, ineffective humor, and potential new ideas you may be too close to the speech to see.

Learning to sort through the feedback will be valuable to you as you go along. Just because one audience doesn't laugh, doesn't mean your humor doesn't work. Just because one person suggests you should add or delete something doesn't mean you should. And just because one audience thinks you are God's gift to speaking, doesn't mean you ARE!

7 Rules of Taking Feedback 

Listen - whether you get formal verbal evaluations or just small talk after you practice, listen, don't argue. It's tough, and I don't always succeed at this, but let everyone say what they want to say, and deal with it later. They are honoring you by giving you the feedback - honor them by letting them have their moment to comment.

Gather - take notes on what is said, bring feedback forms for them to fill out, even film formal evaluations if you choose. If you bring forms, consider tailoring them to ask questions that may direct them to specific areas of your speech you want to improve.

Don't Wait - look at the info as quickly as possible, while the practice is fresh in your mind. This way you can more accurately apply the advice if you choose.

Sort - when looking through the feedback, physically or mentally sort through it. You don't have to be formal about it - just quickly find the best and worst of the advice, and treat it accordingly. By considering ALL feedback, you'll find yourself either bolstering your own ideas or realizing you need to course correct. In most cases, if you have 20 evaluations, and you get one great nugget of advice to add or delete something from your speech, consider yourself blessed.

Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing - remember to put all feedback up against your main point. Will the advice add to or take away from what you want to say? Just because it sounds cool to add a power point show to your speech so you can add a YouTube video to it, doesn't mean its going to help you communicate the Main Thing to your audience.

Test - keep practicing, and keep track of your results. Humor that doesn't work three times is either not funny or poorly delivered. If a new idea doesn't work as well as you thought it would, at least it flopped in a practice instead of in front of your paying audience.

Commit - at the end of the day, your big speech is just that - YOUR big speech. Commit to the final product, and run with it. Know that anything that works or doesn't will ultimately reflect on you, not anyone who critiqued you, whether its a random Toastmaster, a co-worker, or your spouse. The final product is YOUR responsibility.

It doesn't matter if your next speaking opportunity is a small business briefing, a sales presentation, a church class, or a major corporate keynote - practice and feedback will help you Speak, and Deliver!


I'm practicing for my next big event, the World Championship of Public Speaking, by visiting Toastmaster clubs throughout Colorado, and getting as much input as possible. I'm as excited about meeting new people as I am about the feedback I'll be getting. If you're in the area, I'm sure these clubs would love for you to be a guest - and I'd love to meet you. If you've got another venue I can practice at, let me know!

July 6 - Rocky Flats Toastmasters - 5:30 pm
July 7 - Cherry Creek Toastmasters - 7 am
July 11 - Noonshiners in Ft. Collins - Noon
July 20 - Pike's Peak Toastmasters in Colorado Springs - 6:44 am
July 23 - Excelsior Toastmasters - 9:15 am
July 27 - Orbiting Toastmasters - 11:45 am
July 27 - Evening Stars - 7 pm
July 28 - Front Range Toastmasters - 7 pm
Aug 1 - Titan Toastmasters - 6 pm
Aug 2 - Summit County Toastmasters in Frisco - 6:30 pm
Aug 4 - Ranch Raconteurs - 6:55 pm
Aug 6 - Liberty Toastmasters - 10 am
Aug 10 - ASC Speakeasy - 11:30 am


  1. You left off one salient point: Ignore the outliers!

    You cannot please all the people all of the time. I had a wildly popular humorous speech that gathered rave reviews as I rehearsed it in front of dozens of Toastmaster clubs...yet I distinctly recall the one...ONE...adverse review ("You're just not funny").

  2. Great advice here, Rich!

    Your specific for suggestions for Feedback nailed it.

    We can always improve, can't we. If we don't ask where won't know.

    Often we're at the extremes in critiquing ourselves; too easy or too tough.

    Let others tell us and evaluate their evaluations.

    Thanks for the Post!



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