Practice Makes Imperfect: 5 tips for soliciting constructive feedback

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”  “. . . Practice, practice, practice?”

piano playing2Or so we’ve been told. But for business leaders preparing for a game-changing main stage presentation like a new product launch, analyst meeting or a keynote, I’d like to offer a different viewpoint.

Repetition alone will not make your presentation perfect; in fact, it may actually instill imperfections. But what happens when practice is accompanied by clear, direct, actionable feedback?  That’s when you go from boring to bravo!

Below are five Professionally Speaking tips for soliciting solid, constructive and, most importantly, actionable feedback.

Pro Tip #1: Gather an audience. After you’ve rehearsed aloud and are becoming more confident with your talk, bring in colleagues, family and/or friends to simulate an audience. Choose people you trust so the feedback you receive will help you get to the next level.

Pro Tip #2: Request listener feedback. While you may trust their feedback, colleagues or family may be hesitant to offer what they view as criticism. Let your “test audience” know that you’re open to what they have to say and encourage them to candidly share their comments and ideas. 

Pro Tip #3: Ask for specific “how to’s”. The best kind of feedback addresses specific behaviors, so coach your audience to be as detailed as possible. Provide an example to help them understand the type of detail that would be useful.  Typical feedback may be, “You need more gestures”.  More specific feedback would sound something like this, “Using gestures when you say X would really emphasize your point. Here’s a type of gesture that might work.”

Pro Tip #4: Clarify, don’t debate. When your listeners provide feedback, fight the urge to be defensive — remember, you’re asking for honest opinions and are not obligated to adopt every suggestion made. Instead, ask questions to clarify any comments that are unclear, and graciously accept all feedback.

Pro Tip #5: 15-Minute test. Another strategy to keep feedback relevant and actionable is to ask your listeners, “If I only have 15 minutes to make changes, what would you suggest I do differently?”  Again, ask for specifics. With this approach you can distinguish between the“must do’s” and the “nice to’s”.   

To ensure all feedback is constructive follow the S.M.A.R.T principles described in this SpeakerToolbox: Giving Constructive Feedback. By integrating the knowledge gained from your test audience into your next prep session, you’ll be leveraging the power of practice as well as feedback — and be confident, heard and inspiring when you step up to speak.

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4 Responses to Practice Makes Imperfect: 5 tips for soliciting constructive feedback

  1. Pingback: 5 Tips to Connect With Your Audience | Stephanie Scotti/Professionally Speaking

  2. Glenn Gautier says:

    I have found your approach of “hospitality” toward those offering feedback to be quite compelling & effective. It puts the test audience at ease and encourages them to explain and be specific. Their honest, specific feedback is DEFINATELY the “breakfast of champions”. Thanks for sharing.

  3. So true. It always is a surprise to hear how others “hear” what is being shared, their interpretation of the message as well as the delivery style.

  4. Ron Frye says:

    Nice article. It can be an big help to solicit feedback from someone who is “cold” to your topic. They don’t know or care much about it. These people will spot your overuse of jargon, logic that only works for insiders and not for them, and other things that are unclear. They will remind you to do things to connect audience members to what they will learn or gain from your presentation.

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