Effective Feedback to Speaker

If you think about a time when you have received useful feedback, what was it specifically that made it useful?

Just recently, I had a very technical presentation to a peer group and at the end one of the participants gave me some really useful feedback. He said, “your overall presentation was very organized and easy to follow because you had visual support and you walked us through each step.” Then he followed with, “you may want to consider increasing the volume of your voice so the people in the back could hear because there were times when we could not follow along because we could not hear you.”

Do you see how these two feedback comments included support for each statement made? My presentation was organized and easy to follow, BECAUSE of…  My voice was not loud enough so the people in the back of the room could not hear.  These are types of feedback comments that are the most useful to a speaker.  These are things that the speaker can do something about. It is not addressing the speaker’s behavior, it is addressing the speech itself.  As a speaker yourself, don’t you want to know what areas were strong and what areas you can improve upon?  I know that I do!

Here are some short tips to consider when providing feedback that is the most helpful to the speaker:

  • Start with positive feedback. This can reduce defensiveness and help the speaker to be more open to receiving your feedback.
  • Use the 90/10 principle 1. The basis of this principle is that a person’s weaknesses are not necessarily the opposite of their strengths; they are  “excesses” of their strengths. If you provide feedback on 90% of a particular quality as positive, then mention the 10% that worked in in the opposite way or against that 90%. For example: “Your physical variety really helped us understand your topic, however there were a few times that you ‘fiddled’ with your hair that made it distracting.”
  • Feedback descriptive rather than evaluative. For example, instead of saying the speech was disorganized, describe why it was disorganized, “you mentioned the cause and effect for two of your points, but I wasn’t clear on the third.
  • Feedback is specific. Instead of saying, “Your graph was interesting,” say, “Your GMO graph really helped us to show how much soy in this country is genetically modified.”
  • Focus behavior rather than on the person. – The speaker is less likely to take it personally if you use non-judgmental feedback.  For example: “When you raise the pitch of your voice at the end of sentence, and you’re making a statement (not asking a question) it makes you appear uncertain or lacking in confidence.”

The basic idea of feedback is sharing information with the speaker about the speech — not giving advice.

1 Sprague, J., & Stuart, D. (1984). The speaker’s handbook. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Asking Questions of Speaker


If you are part of the inquiry group (questions group): pay close attention to the content of each speech in order to ask informed and provocative questions.

  • Be respectful – think of the content of your questions as well as the tone. If you come off in an accusatory tone, you are much less likely to receive a direct and respectful answer.
  • Do not be overly argumentative the goal is NOT to argue points with speaker. The goal is to find out more. What did the speaker mean by referring to genetically modified organisms as “poison”? Ask for clarification in an inquisitive manner, not one with demand or dispute.
  • Ask effective questions – use questions that delve further into the speech topic. This is where you want to think beyond yes/no questions and move into more of the how/why questions. For example, instead of asking, “what town are you from?”, ask, “what is the town like that you grew up in?” This is more apt to get the speaker talking and get the audience more detailed information.


Speech Q&A Session

Your Q&A Session: 5 Tips for Success

After your speech there is a definite sigh of relief.  Don’t walk away, you aren’t finished yet!  One of the most important parts is the following Q&A session that comes after the speech. This is where your audience can find out more detail about some of the information you brought up in your speech.  After years of presenting my own speeches, and listening to others’ speeches, including many, many students, I have come up with a short list of tips to get you successfully through the Q&A session.

1. Relax. The formal speech is over. But don’t relax too much because the Q&A session is still a part of your speech presentation. Keep the same professionalism and attention to your audience by using the same language style that you used in your speech (not resorting to slang), don’t resort to leaning on the desk or podium and keep your eye contact. Knowing that your speech is finished is a relief, however, you still want to finish with a strong Q&A.

2. Come Prepared. Anticipate that your audience will have questions about points you made in your speech. For example, you could expand on one of your stories that you provided in relation to your points.

3. Invite Questions. If your audience is a bit quiet at first, give them time to gather their thoughts. This is also a time for you to bring up more details on a specific part of your speech that might ignite questions. For example, “when I mentioned that GMOs are becoming more prevalent even in rural areas, I was referring to areas such as Humboldt.”  This is a time for your audience members to show their interest in your topic by asking questions about things that you couldn’t fit detail in due to the time limit.  Remember, this is where you pull all that research out of your back pocket and provide more interesting information to your audience.

4. Respond with honesty. If someone asks a question that you don’t know the answer to, say so. Honesty truly is the best policy. You might even suggest, that you will go research it and come back to share at a later point. Feel free to post your feedback on the course Moodle site to share with the entire class.   This contributes to your credibility as a speaker and your audience is more likely to have trust in your ability as a speaker. If you receive a question that challenges what your belief and/or speech addressed, validate the person’s opinion and reiterate some of the points you made in a non-threatening, non-challenging manner. For example, “I hear and respect your points on this issue. One of the points I made addressed the need for more homeless shelters based on data from these two credible resources.”

5. Explain with clarity. Be sure to respond to questions specifically and clearly. Going off topic can frustrate the person asking the question.  Again, if you don’t have a solid answer, admit that you don’t and

The Q&A session is a great time to learn more about what interested your audience members and what they took away from your speech. This can also help guide you in making improvements in your next speech. Audience questions are a good sign that they were listening and are interested in your topic.