Tuesday, December 13, 2011

You Like Me? You Really Like Me?

Do You Have Sally Fieldesque Esteem Issues?

Last week, I talked about Walking My Talk, and speaking to a group on short notice. I graded myself out at 8 out of 10. A respondent suggested that while it was great I thought I did so well, how well did the group feel I did? Did I give out what Alan Weiss refers to as 'Smile Sheets' - feedback forms to get comments from the audience?

No, I did not. I rarely do, when speaking in front of an audience that is not made up of speakers. It's not that I don't believe in feedback. I definitely do, and wrote about how to use feedback effectively back in July. It's important, however, how you get it, and who you get it from.

It's not that regular audiences won't have something of value to say, it's that they don't have motivation to say it. They are there to learn something, at best. They may also be there to party that night - going to your session simply to look good to the boss. They are thinking of a million other things than how you are as a speaker. (One would hope you can at least get their mind on what YOU are talking about!) Unless the speaker is simply terrible, most 'Smile Sheets' will offer a mix of mostly complimentary remarks, a few harsh complaints, a couple of out-in-left-field whiners, and a few 'you rocked it, superstar!'.

If you are a celebrity, a Kardashian, or even a World Champion speaking to a Toastmasters conference, your 'superstar' percentage will jump. That results from a mix of skill and interest, as well as an expectation created. No one wants to be disappointed, and often people will give great reviews for mediocre performances just to make themselves feel better for being in the audience!

As the speaker, if I give out 'Smile Sheets', I'm giving my audience extra work that looks like I'm more concerned about me than them. Sure, I can offer to give away a book to a random audience member who fills a sheet out, but even that can look a bit shallow.

'Smile Sheets' are usually provided by the event planners, and even they are moving toward online surveys following the event in order to be less intrusive and more efficient (and, Green, I suppose). You might get to see these, you might not. Usually they are designed to benefit the planner - should they bring you back? Even then, some of the questions will be totally unrelated to you as a speaker, from food chosen to room temperature to length of breaks. They may ask if the topic was what they wanted to hear, which may have no bearing on how well you delivered your material at all!

If there are people in the audience who really have something of critical value to say, they will likely come speak with you themselves. If there are people who really have nothing to say other than a random gripe, they may also have the personality to come up to you, so be ready!

The most valuable feedback I received that day was from a couple of folks who said I changed they way they thought about how they presented themselves, and from the meeting planner who said she'd recommend me to the other chapters of their organization. That type of feedback beats a stack of 5 star reviews any day.  

We can't spend our lives as speakers desperate for the approval of every audience member. First, it'll never happen. Second, our being seen as a great speaker isn't even the main point. That isn't to say we shouldn't always be getting better, but it does mean that we shouldn't burden our audiences with grading us. You'll have a pretty good idea of how well you did when it's all said and done.

Save the 'Smile Sheets', feedback forms, and evaluations for Toastmasters and NSA. Their feedback will offer more diversity for you, and likely more criticism you can actually do something with, because they'll be more motivated to actually help you. That is, after all, what they do.

Speak & Deliver, and let the stars fall where they may. 

(Ironic PostScript: I now offer the ability for you to rate my blogposts below....)


  1. Rich- I am continually impressed by your production of good articles.

    One aspect of feedback sheets that does give them some added value is that you can sometimes get a nugget or two for use on your website and other marketing material.

    This is an actual quote from an audience member, not the meeting planner or person who hired me: "I heard 'The Power of a Team' presentation at the American Urological Association conference in Orlando, FL. The message was compelling, commanding the attention of the entire audience. A remarkable journey through team dynamics lead by an experienced guide. The message touched our hearts and encouraged us to embrace the role that we play in our own teams. A timeless presentation that is central to the success of any organization."

    Yes, that was an audience member, not the meeting planner! I will hand out a lot of feedback sheets to get a comment like that, and as when I do, it ends up on my website.

    Having said that, I totally agree with the primary thesis of your article that audience feedback from non speaking audiences does little to help us improve our talks.

  2. Good suggestions here.

    Another idea is to keep it simple:
    1. What is the One Thing you found most helpful or insightful?
    2. What is One Thing you wanted to see but didn't?

    Circle One, Please.
    Good Information: Y - N
    I Will Use: Y - N

    Who do you think might benefit from this Presentation?

    Signature and Contact Information is Optional.

    Thanks for the Post!

  3. I like to ask three questions on the sheets, just to get their opinion (like you, I don't trust an audience to give me feedback):
    1. What did you like most?
    2. What did you like least?
    3. What did you learn?

    Those three questions will help me understand how the audience perceived my speech.



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