Are you a good speaker?

By April 11, 2014 presentations

You probably think you’re being perfectly clear when you give a presentation.

But you don’t really know what the audience believes, do you? Not only that, you don’t even bother to ask. If you did, you’d be surprised how often you’re misunderstood.

I was surprised.

I found out because I give a lot of presentations. Well, that’s not exactly true. What I should say is: I give a lot of presentations, and I survey attendees myself immediately after the presentation.

That’s how I found out what my audiences really believe.

But just asking for feedback isn’t enough. You have to do it the right way, otherwise you get poor feedback. Or worse, useless feedback.

The best way to get feedback is to ask for it right after you speak. Then you’ll capture the audience’s best impressions. Immediate feedback is also good for you, the speaker.

If you can stomach the criticism, that is.

Most speakers aren’t interested in getting feedback. They’re afraid of it, and so they avoid it. The groups that recruit the speakers know this, and have a way of dealing with the fear of feedback.

Oh sure, they gather feedback from their audiences —usually, by collecting paper surveys. So the audience gets a chance to write down their impressions. But what happens next?

Typically the bar associations or event organizers won’t send their speakers the results of the surveys for months. If the speaker gets bad reviews it’s less traumatic.

But by then it’s also useless.

It’s useless if the speaker really wants to use the audience’s comments in a productive way. Bottom line: If I want to improve I need specific comments delivered as soon as possible after I speak.

So when I give presentations, I don’t rely on other people to help me get audience feedback. If possible, I do it myself. And usually it’s possible.

SurveyMonkey is one of many services that will let you collect surveys via the web, for free. So it costs nothing to get the feedback you need to improve. Still, I pay SurveyMonkey $300/year for premium services because I take the whole audience feedback thing pretty seriously.

Everytime I do a seminar or webinar I try to get feedback from the audience. And, like I said, the results surprised me.

A lot of people are politely approving, and some offer enthusiastic praise. Which is obviously nice.

But what’s more useful is this: when someone gives me a specific example of where I was not totally clear. Or when I failed to make the material interesting. Or really anything that made the presentation unexceptional.

Yep, I pay close attention to that kind of feedback. And I retool my presentations to take it into account.

Next time I give that same presentation I want to as clear as I can possibly be. Ideally, I want as many people in the audience to understand the information I’m giving them, and know exactly how to make practical use of it.

That’s what a good speaker is supposed to do, right?