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.

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