How to Get Helpful Feedback for A Performance – A Curious Reflection

Today I enjoyed spending some time in a regular local Toastmasters meeting. We had three speakers raring to go today, including me. We accommodated just enough time for the speakers to deliver speeches, get evaluated, and some extra for table topics in just an hour. The Toastmasters meeting was bursting with energy and laughter.

I had some time to reflect on the meeting afterward and came up with 2 notes on giving/receiving feedback for any performance, or this time, a speech

Note #1:

I recycled the On Ignorance: Bicycle Racing post into a speech: proof that the blog has been helpful for me in constantly pushing out bad ideas in search of good ones. It does have a down side, though. Having written a semi-polished blog post about cycling, I was too confident on my knowledge on the topic and did not rehearse the speech. Big mistake.

And sure enough, I had too much material to cover in a short allotted speech time of 6-8 minutes. Afterward, I get a lot of feedback notes on how I get flustered when the time was running out, or stepped on my foot during transitions between points. I nailed the speech organization in my previous speeches, and wanted feedback on whether the speech this time was helpful or informative, I got feedback on structure of the speech instead.

So in order to get feedback on the finer details, master the basics first. Don’t skip steps. Or, at least tell people what to my goal in delivering a particular speech is, and have them measure my against my goals, provided they can see through the structuring errors of mine.

Note #2:

As I listened to the other speakers, I was tempted to encourage them to use more hand gestures, or voice inflection, or put more emotion, or more stories in. Of course I would say those things. That is my go to points whenever I evaluate a speech. And it seems everybody does that too. It’s always use more body languages, or voice pitch changes.

As I reflected more, I think all our comments about technicality of a speech are quite superficial. Let’s try to dive deeper on what makes a speech effective. This goes for both side, as a speaker, I want to know if I had been understood by the audience; the audience should also think whether they felt connected to the speaker. The facts may get through, but the emotions is what gets people energetic and open up to receiving new ideas

More important feedback to give about speech should be, how does that make me feel? Did it compel me to learn more about the topic? Did it move me to do something? Did I understand something more? Did I have a good time? At what point did I glaze over? At what point did I lose interest? What was my takeaway? Was there any takeaway at all?

Be brutally honest. Don’t make it flowery, don’t sprinkle it, but be fair, give credit where it is given. Don’t reiterate points if not needed. The evaluation main goal is not about the evaluator but about the speaker.

So next time hearing a speech, or any kind of self-expression performances (which, arguably, means all performances), think whether the performer has touched you in any way, and tell the performer exactly that if asked.

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