Just how much do you search out feedback after you've made a presentation? Do you quickly collect the smile sheets [a.k.a. feedback forms...more on these in a subsequent post], breathe a sigh of relief, and stuff them into your briefcase where they're unlikely to again see the light of day? Do you gratefully accept thanks from the event organizer without probing for more detail about whether you really hit the mark? If this sounds familiar, you are missing a fabulous opportunity to gain insights, correct shortcomings and generally improve your presentation effectiveness.
WHERE CAN YOU GET FEEDBACK?
You can certainly obtain feedback from the forms that your audience fills in at the end of a presentation. These will give you a general idea of how your comments were received and perhaps even a few suggestions for improvement. But frequently these are filled out in a hurry or audience members are reluctant to provide negative feedback.
And then, what about the situations where there are no feedback forms? Like the presentation in the boardroom or the remarks at the employee meeting.
Luckily, there are several sources of feedback which can be useful in giving you insights about your presentation effectiveness. Here are some to search out.
Since your entire focus should be on understanding and meeting the audience's needs with your presentation, the folks listening to you speak are the most critical and valuable source of feedback. During the presentation, consciously read the non-verbal clues your audience provides to understand how they are receiving your message. Are you seeing boredom, excitement, confusion? Learn to read and interpret these signs so that you can make adjustments in your message or your style of delivery, if necessary.
After the presentation, don't rely solely on formal feedback forms to assess your effectiveness. Engage audience members as they are leaving the room or when they approach you with questions. Don't strive for the useless "Oh, you were great." Ask open-ended, non-threatening questions to get specifics about what worked. Ask what they found most useful. Ask what resonated with them. Ask what more they would like to have heard. This not only gives you valuable data but it shows the audience that you genuinely care about serving them.
A coach or mentor can provide usable feedback to help you improve your presentation content, techniques and delivery. The key is to find someone who either knows a good deal about your audience's needs or who knows a good deal about what makes for a successful presentation, and ideally both. The coach/mentor can work with you before your presentation, assisting with your preparation and rehearsal. If they can sit in on the actual presentation and provide feedback based on their observations of the audience, all the better.
A trusted colleague can also perform this role, but be sure to choose someone who has the background to offer you insightful critique, perhaps someone whose own presentation style you admire.
Don't overlook the power of video feedback. You will hear and see things, both positive and negative, that you were not aware of and the visual aspect of the feedback will solidify the insights. However, for it to be useful, you have to know how to interpret what you are seeing, which means you need some knowledge of what effective presentation skills look like. You also need to be able to assess your own performance through the filter of this knowledge. Once you can do that, you will gain great insights from watching your presentation on video.
THE EVENT ORGANIZER
The meeting planner or the admin assistant who organizes the event at which you're presenting can provide unfiltered feedback that augments the more formal feedback you receive. This person will likely hear "buzz" and candid remarks about your presentation and can share that with you, as long as you've clearly communicated that you are open to constructive feedback.
HERE'S THE TAKE-AWAY
No matter how skilled (or even famous) we get at making presentations, we never outgrow the need for feedback. Although our skills may reach an expert level of competence, every audience is different and therefore we need to continuously evaluate how effectively we are communicating our message.