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Professional Speakers: How Can You Get Regular and “Real” Feedback

Management guru Ken Blanchard often quotes his friend, Rich Case, as saying, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” If that is the case, how often and how well are YOU™, as a professional speaker, being fed?

If you’re like most professional speakers I’ve met, you aren’t getting enough real, authentic feedback about your performance. The only way to get feedback you can truly use is to take the initiative to go after it. There’s simply no better way to excel and accelerate your career.

Of course, asking for feedback may not be something you love to do. Let’s face it: It can be somewhat painful to learn about any shortcomings, even if there are only relatively small issues that need improvement. But the other reality to face is that not accepting criticism can cause your speaking career to come to a crashing halt. So, it becomes a matter of trading off the long-term pain of a career that isn’t reaching its full potential for the short-term potential pain of a little constructive criticism. That feedback could ultimately help you move forward and perhaps even help you reach heights beyond what you thought possible.

Once you know what needs improvement, you’re then armed with the information you need to move forward. There’s a certain excitement from developing your speaking skills and getting better at your profession. It’s almost guaranteed to rejuvenate you and give you renewed energy for your mission … if you let it.

Why Don’t Speakers Seek More Feedback?

Despite the known benefits of getting input from others, too many pro speakers continue as usual without getting enough feedback about their performance. Why is that? These are the five main reasons I’ve seen. Do you recognize yourself in any of these?

1)     As you climb higher as a speaker, you become more set in your ways and less coachable.

2)     You let your ego/pride stop you from getting feedback.

3)     You’re concerned that the feedback you do get won’t be genuine.

4)     The feedback received doesn’t come from the right people.

5)     You’re content to just continue on as you’ve always done, as long as nothing appears to be wrong.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Feedback

The bottom line: To improve your skills, no matter how long you’ve been a professional speaker, it’s critical to get feedback from others. Here are some do’s and don’ts that will assist you in getting feedback you can truly use:

Do ask for feedback after every event. Ask for it from audience members (the whole audience, if you can), meeting organizers, and sponsors. It shows you are a professional and want to get better at your craft. And asking from a variety of individuals allows you to hear a multitude of viewpoints from a “surround-sound” perspective. That can help you grow in different ways.

Do make it clear to your feedback providers that you’re sincere and want their remarks to be honest. Encourage them to be candid, and let them know that’s exactly the kind of input you’re looking for.

Do say “thank you” when someone shares feedback with you—and that’s all you need to say, whether you agree with what you heard or not. This holds especially true if they offered perceived “negative” inputs. If you’re not the sort of person who’s good at taking criticism, there’s nothing wrong with “rehearsing” ahead of time. Try to anticipate the points people might tell you, and prepare yourself emotionally to react well. You don’t need to commit to making a change on the spot; you can decide what to do with the feedback later. Just thank your feedback provider, genuinely, and remember that they’ve given you information you can use. View it as a gift—because it is.

Do listen closely, and jot down notes on what is said. Don’t try to remember your feedback providers’ remarks in your head because if you’re feeling any emotion or anxiety, no matter how prepared you think you are, your mind will likely get cluttered. Plus, when the feedback provider sees you writing down their remarks, they’ll be convinced you really are sincere about getting honest feedback. And it will be helpful, later, to have your notes in front of you as you review the inputs and plan what to do with them.

Do devise an anonymous questionnaire if you think you might not get genuine feedback any other way, especially from audience members. Your own comfort level might even be enhanced if you can ask questions in writing. Design the questions in whatever format will suit your purposes: You can write questions that require simple “Yes” or “No” answers, or those that rate you on a scale of 1-6 or 1-10. Or you can combine these styles, even asking a few “narrative” questions, e.g., to write a sentence or a paragraph in response. You’ll be able to see which types of questions bring the most useful information and remember that for future feedback.

Do create questions that correspond to specific key qualities or skills that you want to improve. Here are a few suggestions—you can pick and choose—but always try to start off with “positive” input questions (e.g., the first two below) as people are generally open to sharing “negative” inputs once they’ve had a chance to share positives first.

  • What are my top 2-3 attributes as a speaker (what do you think I do best)?
  • What are 2-3 suggestions you have for how I could improve as a speaker?
  • What do I do too much of when I speak?
  • What do I do too little of when I speak?
  • What is one suggestion you have that could make my speech content more impactful?
  • What would you suggest I personally do differently compared to what I’m doing now when I speak?

This list is just a sample.  You can devise questions based on specifics you want to learn about. The key is to provide balanced questions that will highlight both strengths and development areas of you as a speaker.

Don’t make your request too open-ended by saying something like, “Could you give me some feedback, please?” People may not know what to say, and they may get lost trying to figure out what you’re looking for. But if you ask them specific questions, such as those from the list above, you will probably end up with very useful inputs that can drive tangible strategies for improving your performance and strengthening your speaking skills.

Don’t get defensive, no matter what kind of feedback you get. You’ve asked people to be honest with you (and you did mean it, right?), so if you don’t accept the criticism gracefully, there’s a good chance they will never offer honest feedback again. It’s extremely important to train yourself to keep silent and listen actively while receiving feedback. 

By keeping in mind that “Feedback is the breakfast of champions” and by embracing these feedback Do’s and Don’ts, you will be well on your way to continuous improvement and growth as a professional speaker.

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