“He has the right to criticize who has the heart to help.”
– Abraham Lincoln

Our last post dealt with the most effective ways to give feedback. Now we want to share our tips for how to receive feedback in order to improve your skills as a public speaker.  First, I want to share something that one of our clients said the other day.  After several rounds of delivery and feedback, his final run-through was fantastic – clear, compelling, and authentic.  I asked him for his reaction and he said, “For 20 years I’ve been ‘umming’ and ‘ahhing’ my way through presentations and now those fillers are gone. It feels great!”  How did he accomplish this? By being open to constructive criticism, taking his ego out of the equation, and making conscious adjustments along the way.

If you are like the rest of us, you have probably received feedback that was anything but helpful.  With the explosion of shows like American Idol and What Not to Wear, it’s a wonder that any of us would actually seek out constructive criticism.  Don’t let that stop you.  First and foremost, think of feedback as the lunch buffet at your favorite Chinese restaurant:  take what you want and leave the rest.  After you have mastered that mindset, incorporate the following tips into your next feedback session:

  1. Ask your observer to focus on specific criteria. To ensure you receive actionable feedback, define the aspects you want your observer to focus on.  Without these parameters, observers often react in a stream-of-consciousness manner which is difficult to internalize.
  2. Practice active listening. If you have mentally shut down during the feedback stage you might as well go wash the dishes for all the good it will do.  Try to settle your mind, make eye contact with your observer and ask clarifying questions to be sure you understand what they are saying.  You might even try re-stating what they said to verify their intent.
  3. Find some “soak time.” Before you run off and practice bigger gestures or re-write your entire presentation, find some time to process what you heard.  Then take what rings true and decide how to incorporate it into your delivery.
  4. Choose your observers wisely. The best feedback is concise, practical and offered with your best interests in mind.  With that definition, I’m sure you can rule out certain people who might make you feel defensive or who will be too negative.  You want a neutral, third-party who can maintain a certain distance. Therefore, if you want to see improvement, avoid asking spouses, partners, siblings, or pets!

– Barbara Roche