Sometimes I feel like a mother hen. After intensive collaboration with a client to create, structure, design, practice, and videotape their presentation, it culminates with me saying, “Go forth, be bold, you are ready.” Rarely do I see clients in action. It’s so frustratingly incomplete. If I could find a way to be a fly on the wall during their presentation, I would. Inevitably, my very last words to clients are, “You must contact me as soon as possible to tell me how it went and to debrief.”
Most clients don’t seem to understand my urgency – after all they still have their keynote ahead of them. So, I emphasize the necessity of the debrief (and remind them that it’s included in their fee package). Here are my thoughts on why debriefs are critical to anyone committed to continuous improvement and how to develop this practice.
Debriefing is a tool to access my #1 speaker credo: Know Thyself. Your clarity and confidence as a communicator comes from self-knowledge. The debrief formalizes the million steps you took after you said yes to a speaking commitment to actually standing in front of your audience. Taking the time to review each of these steps, the “what worked, what didn’t” formalizes a system that will help you shortcut future angst, develop efficiency and build confidence for your next important communication. There is nothing too minor to be noted in a debrief.
Debriefing supports detachment, your ability to step outside the post-presentation rush and parse your preparation and delivery. We review what went well and what didn’t seem to land, how the creating and editing process worked for you, we match the outcome with your stated goals and we look for formal feedback that is based in valued assessment vs. a knee jerk response. A debrief offsets the human tendency to only notice what went wrong.
Debriefing mitigates the fact that most people give lousy and unhelpful feedback. From one end of the spectrum, “that was amazing, fantastic,” to the half-smiles of avoidance on the other end when a presentation didn’t soar. Neither of these are specific or helpful. What you want is clarity about where you effectively connected, heart and mind, and where you fell short. From the slides that were hard to read, the energy that was infectious, the joke that landed well, the logical black hole, the hair in your eyes, and on and on. Getting specificity helps us to be evaluative about our work, not just reactive. We note each and every aspect for future review.
Get a Notebook. And get a sturdy one. A Speaker’s Journal. A place to record and document your lists of ‘Dos and Don’ts, the ‘Next Time I will…’. Write at length after a presentation about your own impressions, distractions, weird unexpected hiccups, funny moments, things you were proud of, and what one thing was better than the last time you did this. Record. Review. Rinse. Repeat.
Get Explicit Feedback. At the event itself, enlist a trusted colleague, advisor, or friend who has your best interests at stake. Ask them to note “specific moments” in your presentation that resonate or might need to be developed. Review this together and be sure the language is very precise. Evaluate this feedback and your own presentation with your coach. Be a scientist.
Practice Discipline. Commit to numbers one and two above and you will absolutely move closer to being a more self-aware, connected and effective presenter. Ironically, this intensive self-awareness practice will help you to be less self-absorbed and much more natural when connecting with your audience.
Go forth, be bold and don’t forget to debrief.
Your Self-Professed Mother Hen,