3 Steps to Getting Presentation Feedback... That's Actually Helpful

Criticism can be hard to take, but it can also make you better. These three tips can help you get -- and accept -- feedback on your presentation so that you can continue to grow as a presenter.
March 29, 2016

They clapped and congratulated you. You received a few pats on the back for a speech well done. But your intuition tells you something else about your performance on stage. A presenter's worst nightmare: You bombed.

As the post-presentation days go by, your suspicions are confirmed. Your phone and inbox are quiet. You've received no follow-up questions, requests for potential partnerships or invitations to speak at future events.

When you look in the rear-view mirror, you start to realize something: You've been that person who politely claps following a presentation, and with false enthusiasm, tells fellow presenters, "Great speech!" You know how much easier it is to give platitudes than to deliver what may be unwelcomed critique. It's an excuse—but it's true to say that we all do it.

It's true, too, that critique is hard to take when we've put our hearts and souls into our presentations. But it can also make us better presenters. This is, of course, when it comes from those who know you and genuinely want to offer useful feedback. So you need to make a point of reaching out to those people after a presentation—and let them know you welcome their candor.

When we think of critique, it often makes us uncomfortable and causes us to squirm. We think of having our ideas and hard work ripped to shreds because we are so attached to our work. But critique is not censured criticism; it's often helpful assessment.

So if you are ready to grow as a speaker, you need to be open to hearing genuine feedback. Here's how to elicit constructive and thoughtful feedback to help you grow as a speaker while keeping our ego intact:

1. Let go of your ego.

Think about it: Do you actually welcome helpful critique? Or are you guilty of either embracing kudos to fill your soul or simply assuaging your ego by wearing blinders?

I used to have a hard time taking critique until I attended a leadership workshop a number of years ago that was aimed at learning from others' insights. Our group worked together to discover a solution to a thorny project problem and we were given two rules: First, once you shared your idea, it was no longer yours. In other words, when our ideas left our lips they belonged to the group. I wasn't expecting my reaction to this directive—it felt freeing to now no longer own the “rights" to my ideas and send them off to evolve in other people's hands and minds. From this place, I could begin to learn.

2. Really listen.

The second rule centered around how we listen to hear, not to respond. How often do we listen from our perspective, all the while formulating an answer as we're spoken to? During our group project, we were given a “talking stick." Only the holder of the stick was allowed to talk and no one was to interrupt. This caused us to listen with respect to the speaker and really hear his or her words.

When receiving feedback, take in what is really being shared with you from the critic's point of view, without connecting your own logical dots. There is value in shedding light on a perspective you may not have thought of.

3. Ask the right questions to provoke honest feedback.

If you simply ask others what they thought of your presentation, you'll often receive an insipid response such as, “You were great!" or “Fantastic job!" which may feel good at the time, but it doesn't provide anything akin to meaningful insight. Instead, questions like the ones listed below will cause your critic to dig a little deeper and offer constructive input.

  • What was the most important concept/idea you took away today?
  • What could I have explained more clearly or more in-depth?
  • What could I have left out? What could I have added?
  • Were there spots in my presentation where I lost you or that you weren't interested in?

By paving the way with good questions for honest feedback and a safe place for your colleagues to land, you'll invite the insight you need to grow as a speaker.

The secret to growing as a presenter is our openness to critique, and we do so by making it easy to receive feedback. Because we all want to be the type of speaker who actually makes a difference and receives sincere accolades, don't we?

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