How To Give Speech Feedback
It’s risky leaving the cave.
You’ve been asked to give feedback on a speech or presentation.
Just saying, “Yeh, it was good”, isn’t going to help much is it?
On the other hand, providing a list of ‘faults’ could be damaging. You see, speakers are a bit like cavemen.
OK, perhaps we’d better explain that last comment.
Feed or Feedback?
Just cast your mind back quite a few millions of years. You are a cave dweller and you detect something moving outside your cave.
You have a choice. An important decision to make.
Dash out, spear in hand, and find a herbivore munching the grass and you might have a tasty meal that day.
On the other hand, if it’s a sabre-tooth tiger, you are likely to be the meal.
The fact that we are here and the sabre-tooth tiger isn’t shows that we developed a survival instinct over millions of years. Long after the tigers had gone, life was still pretty risky and it paid to remain cautious.
Put another way, we focussed on the negatives of life and how to avoid them rather than the positives and potential opportunities. It was safer that way.
Beware the Tiger when giving Speech Feedback
Having popped out of our modern cave to make a speech, our antennae are still tuned to look out for negatives. Millions of years training can’t be undone overnight, even if that ‘overnight’ is hundreds of years.
In most circumstances we are still more conscious of negatives than positives. A negative comment about our presentation will be perceived much more clearly than a positive comment. And remembered.
How to Provide Positive Feedback
The priority for anyone giving feedback on a speech or presentation should be to encourage the speaker to stay in the sunshine outside their cave. The risks are low and the opportunities considerable.
OK, so how do we provide a constructive review of someone’s performance?
How about starting with a smile and a positive comment? That will help the speaker to relax and be receptive to the rest of your thoughts on their performance.
Your feedback needs to be overwhelmingly positive and encouraging. It is the key to development, whether of a speaker, or more generally, of colleagues in the workplace. ‘Must try harder’ isn’t going to work is it?
Consider how you can most help the speaker. Note ‘help the speaker’. This isn’t about giving an analytical evaluation to demonstrate how knowledgeable you are.
If this is in a group session, such as in a speakers’ club, don’t address your comments directly at the speaker. That will feel awkward for them. Speak to the audience as a whole, as any learning to be gained will benefit all of them.
Don’t just show up. You need to prepare.
How experienced is the speaker? Are there any aspects they’d particularly like help with? If this is in a speakers’ club, what module or assignment are they tackling? Make sure that you study it so you know what they are trying to achieve.
With a work-related speech, content may be as important as delivery. But if it’s being delivered as part of the presenter’s development in a speakers’ club or similar environment, then don’t worry too much about content. Focus on the delivery, the performance aspects.
Two Ways to Prepare
There are two approaches you can take, again, perhaps depending on the context of the speech.
You could think about all of the aspects that you need to consider and write down headings for the key things that the speaker might include in the presentation.
This helps form an outline for delivering the feedback. For example, when considering how body language was used, headings could be for facial expressions, hand gestures and eye contact. This helps you remember what you are looking for and can make sure that important aspects are covered in the feedback.
Make notes under your various headings while the presentation is in progress. Then they can be tidied up and written up in a structured way before providing your guidance.
If you are looking for a less clinical approach, just sit and listen to the speaker and make a note of anything that stands out. You’ll probably have less to say as a result but it will let you focus on what’s made an impression with you.
Unless you are fairly experienced, it’s probably better to take the first approach and have a prepared list of headings. It will help to stop you worrying you might have missed something important.
Your initial thoughts are likely to be verbal but it’s a good idea to follow it up with written guidance, as it allows the speaker to reflect and look back when developing their next speech.
Don’t try to cover too much. Sometimes, a speech has lots of points you can raise and it’s possible to go on and on. Highlight the most important learning points from the speech rather than trying to cover everything. Balance any aspects needing further work with two or three times as many positive points.
Remember, the improvement opportunities you mention will be perceived as negatives by the cave dweller in most of us unless discussed in a positive manner.
Show Not Tell
Your feedback can, and should, include advice on how the speaker can improve. But it should be done sensitively.
The golden rule is to suggest how the improvement could be achieved, not merely state that it is required. Unless you can demonstrate clearly how to make the change, then do not mention the issue.
And remember, there are no absolutes, everything is your opinion. Others in the audience may have a different perspective.
So rather than, “Fred should have raised his voice at this point”, it’s better to say, “I think it might have been even more effective if Fred had raised his voice at this point.”
By raising your voice you emphasise the point but you have expressed it as an opinion not a rule.
Highlighting the strong points is important. And it’s equally important to explain why they have added to the effectiveness of the speech. If the speaker understands the reason you liked a particular aspect, it will help to reinforce the benefit and the speaker and audience will be more likely to use the technique next time.
“Did you notice how Mary paused after humorous parts of her speech. That gave us time to laugh and relax for a second before focussing back on the presentation.”
Make it appropriate to the experience level of the speaker. If this is a speaker’s first speech, you need to give lots of positive feedback. Essentially, if they got up and said something, even for just a couple of minutes, they succeeded. Positive feedback is really important, especially for the first few speeches. You want the speaker to keep developing, not, giving up.
In the early days of a speaker’s development, don’t worry too much about more advanced speaking skills such as how they use their voice or incorporate subtle humour. That is UNLESS they demonstrated it effectively in the speech. In which case, praise it. As people progress, review can become more rigorous but there still needs to be a lot of positive feedback. Generally, speakers have put a lot of work into their speeches, so acknowledge it.
How To Deliver Your Feedback
When you give your feedback, try to structure it in the same way you would a speech. Identify the approach you plan to take and the main points you’ll cover.
Then do just that.
And finally, reinforce those key points and try to end with a bonus. One last, really positive point. The highlight that stood out above all others.
Find Out More
Read about negativity bias, thoughts on how to overcome it plus cavemen and more. The linked article is well worth a read. Oh, and do make sure you take the selective attention test on the video before you read past it it. You’ll really need to concentrate to come up with the right answer!
And when negativity turns into a fear of public speaking, here’s how to overcome it.
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