Use feedback to improve your presentations
July 3, 2020

Use Feedback to Improve Your Presentations

After a presentation, every presenter is inclined to review and rate their performance. Did it go as planned? Was I confident enough? Was I able to convince the audience? These are questions that we can’t answer on our own – we just  don’t really know how others perceive us. Unless we ask them.

 

Why a good presentation relies on in-depth feedback

The presentation is over. How it went is not really important anymore, because nothing can be changed anyway, right? Wrong.

It’s easy to understand why professional football coaches analyze games with their teams, and why teachers encourage their students to correct their own mistakes in class tests. It’s all about learning and improving. It’s about knowing your own strengths and weaknesses and working on them.

Very few people are inherently talented presenters. Everyone can benefit from practice and working on their own strengths and weaknesses. Feedback is the best way to recognize them and improve them.

 

Why self-perception is not enough: the Johari window

It’s true that, to a certain extent, we are able to evaluate ourselves. And we should. Filming your own presentation and watching it back can be an eye-opening experience. But self-evaluation can also lead us astray, as it is based solely on our self-perception, which can be either significantly better or more critical than the what others perceive. An objective evaluation always requires an outside perspective.

The Johari window sheds light on this process. The model illustrates the dynamics of self-perception and external perception and is based on the idea that communication can be improved by bringing both spheres closer together. The model also identifies a blind spot in our self-perception. It encompasses all those characteristics and habits (e.g., facial expressions and body language) that we ourselves are unaware of, but which we present to the outside world. This blind spot can only be revealed through feedback from others.

Criteria for constructive feedback

Giving and receiving general feedback isn’t particularly helpful. Instead, it makes sense to focus on specific criteria. The following are particularly relevant for presentation feedback:

  • Content and structure: Has the topic been covered completely and coherently? Was there a logical and clear structure?
  • Visualization: Was the presentation clearly and attractively designed? Were visual tools used effectively?
  • Language: Was the speaker easy to understand? How was his/her delivery? Did the choice of vocabulary and expressions support the presentation?
  • Body language: Were facial expressions and gestures used effectively? Did the presenter make eye contact? What impression did body language communicate?

 

The best ways to get feedback after the presentation

Feedback isn’t always a given. If you’d like feedback after a presentation, you’ll probably need to ask for it. There are several ways to do this.

Q&A session after the presentation

One of the most immediate ways to get feedback is to use a Q&A session following the presentation. It allows you to gauge the success of your presentation both directly and indirectly. Indirect indicators can be derived from the audience reactions. A restrained polite applause and an audience that seems to be in a hurry to leave the room are not exactly compliments. If the audience asks a lot of clarifying questions and glances around doubtfully, the presentation might not have been as understandable and straightforward as hoped for.

If you would like more concrete information, ask the audience directly for some feedback. If you just gave an in-house presentation, you can always ask colleagues and superiors for feedback at a later date. But sometimes, direct feedback isn’t always helpful – many people are afraid to openly express criticism, no matter how constructive it may be.

Use feedback to improve presentations

 

Feedback forms with questions

A feedback form that covers all relevant criteria is a great idea. It can be handed out after a presentation or sent to participants via email. It’s often more fruitful than asking for feedback directly as it can be filled out anonymously and in one’s own time. Feedback form templates can be easily found on the Internet. Some good examples can be found here: https://www.sampletemplates.com/business-templates/presentation-evaluation.html
And here: https://www.sampleforms.com/presentation-feedback-form-template.html

You can also design a feedback form yourself, allowing you to get a bit more creative and customize the questions (e.g., “In your opinion, which three things would have made the presentation better?”).

 

Send an online survey to participants

A third way to ask for feedback is with an online survey. It’s created using an online survey tool and made available to participants via a link. The structure is usually similar to a conventional feedback form. Experience has shown that the biggest disadvantage is that the feedback option is often used by just a few participants.

An example for an online feedback site is provenexpert.com. Via this platform you can simply send your participants a survey with the request to rate you with an asterisk and a personal experience report. Of course, the more personal and closer the contact to your customers is, the more likely you are to receive a rating.

 

Dealing with feedback during presentations

Presentation evaluations are comparable to product reviews in large online shops. There are some exuberant 5-star reviews where you somehow doubt their authenticity, and some 1-star reviews that suggest that the buyer wasn’t exactly sure what they needed.  

In between, there is usually a large amount of mixed reviews that list the pros and cons and tend to be the most helpful. This kind of pattern is also common in feedback for presentations and can be handled in the same way. What is decisive is the big picture and relevant advice.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when dealing with feedback:

  • All feedback is welcome: Every listener has the right to his or her opinion. Whether the criticism comes from the boss or the trainee, accept it with gratitude.
  • Don’t critique the feedback: Especially with direct and critical feedback, one easily feels tempted to debate, defend or justify oneself. The best approach is to simply accept what is said as an opinion. Say thank you regardless of whether you feel the feedback is justified or not.
  • Feedback is not binding: The presenter is also entitled to his or her opinion. Not everything that is expressed in feedback must be realized. What you want to change or implement is basically up to you.

 

Feedback is a two-way street

Those who appreciate helpful feedback should also be able to provide it when asked. For feedback to be really useful and helpful, it should meet the following criteria:

  • Be as concrete as possible: When people ask for feedback they’re not just looking for praise, they want specifics. Instead of “The presentation was entertaining”, try “The fact that specific factors were explained using examples made the presentation entertaining.”

Use the first person: Those who give feedback can only ever speak for themselves. That’s why the first person should be used instead of the more general, one.

  • Suggestions for improvement: Constructive feedback should be positive and contain ideas for improvement. Instead of “You talk too quickly”, try “I would have found it easier to follow the presentation if you had spoken more slowly and built in more pauses.”
  • Give positive criticism, too: It’s easy to forget that criticism doesn’t have to be purely negative. To find out what really worked during a presentation can be just as valuable for speakers.
  • Avoid judgmental language: Feedback should describe your own observations: judgments or accusations are inappropriate. Instead of “Your presentation bombed because you were basically just reading”, try “You read a lot, so I found myself missing contact with the audience.”

Use feedback to improve presentations

 

Feedback and respect go hand in hand

Effective feedback has a lot to do with mutual respect. Both the person giving and receiving feedback should always keep this in mind. It should be considered as a reference and tool, and not as judgement. If given and received correctly, it can be extremely useful.

Constructive feedback and even criticism can lead to more recognition and respect than false praise. The philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell was well aware of this when he said, “Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.”

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