Hari Patience-Davies offers some advice on how to ask a friend or colleague for feedback on your presentations or public speaking.

Feedback is an aspiring speaker’s best friend and worst enemy.

Best friend because without feedback – advice on what worked or didn’t work – few speakers can truly improve. Worst enemy because if you have any anxiety about speaking on stage – and the evidence is that most of us do – ill-considered feedback can trigger it.

So what’s the best way to ask for feedback without anxiety?

Here’s what I do.

First of all, I record myself performing a speech for a few minutes (2-3 minutes is a good length) and watch the video clip back. Then I try and critique myself in three different areas:

  1. Content. What did I actually say? Did it all make sense? Did I use any overcomplicated language or repeat myself unnecessarily?
  2. Structure. Did my speech follow the plan and notes I had for it? How long did I spend on the introduction? How long on my supporting evidence? Was there a clear conclusion?
  3. Delivery. How fast was I talking? Did I mumble? What was I doing with my hands? And my feet – was I still or did I sway from side to side?

For this last one, when considering body language it’s worth watching the clip with the sound off – without the distraction of the audio you can really focus in on the emotions displayed. Did I look confident? Nervous? Did my expressed emotions represent the content of what I was saying – for example if I was talking about a famine or tragedy, did I look suitably somber? (Once when prepping a speech I was so glad I remembered a load of data points about the numbers of homeless people I grinned at myself in the mirror – which didn’t match the emotional point of the speech at all).

I make notes and try to find a balance between letting myself off for mistakes and being my own worst critic.

I then try and identify the three most important things to work on. For me these are often

  • Slow down!
  • Stick to the planned content and don’t tell an extra anecdote just because it amuses you
  • Watch out for my filler word – “So…”

Then when I ask someone else for feedback I can say to them:

  • What do you think of the pace? Did I go too fast at any point?
  • Did the content seem clear or do you think I went off on a tangent at any point?
  • Are there any filler words or noises that I should work on cutting out?

This gives the person I’ve asked for feedback somewhere to start.

Often the people we ask for feedback – unless they are experienced coaches – may be uncertain how to offer that feedback. They don’t know how honest we want them to be. They may just take the easy route out and say “You were great! Just keep practicing!” rather than do the analysis to offer useful feedback.

So we want to make it easy for them to begin with, and by giving them our areas of focus, they can concentrate on the things we already know we want to improve. Hopefully they will have some insights and suggestions to share on the three most important areas already identified.

Once we have that feedback, we must always ask them if there is anything else they think we should do, and often as people have already started giving thoughtful feedback, they will identify something we didn’t even notice at all when we did our analysis.

TLDR: If you are clear what the areas are you want to improve it makes it easier for people to give you useful feedback.


Photo credit: by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

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