If you're hoping to start landing keynotes over panels or venture into the realm of getting paid to speak, testing your presentations on audiences is a critical part of the journey.
The mistake many inexperienced conference speakers make though is that they base their feedback on what their audience says to them immediately after they've stepped off stage. This is a problem because, well, conference audiences will clap at almost anything.
They're great for your ego, but not so great for your development as a speaker.
Getting honest feedback on a presentation is difficult, especially when it comes to conference presentations.
If we are asked to give feedback to someone else, of course, we want to encourage them and and in Britain we're far too polite to say what we really think about something.
The result are a bunch of 'thought leaders' who think they are far better than they actually are.
I know this because I've delivered my fair share of average-at-best keynotes only to be met with rapturous applause and 'feedback' sometimes bordering on sycophantic! People come up to you afterwards saying 'ahhh I loved your talk,' 'that was so interesting!'
Err no, it wasn't... I've heard more engaging shipping forecasts, I nearly bored myself to sleep.
Now don't get me wrong, 10 minutes after coming off stage, I'll take that over anything honest! I'll force a smile, say thank you very much knowing deep down it was nowhere near my best effort and proceed to make a swift exit so I can drown my sorrows in peri peri sauce at my obligatory post-presentation Nandos.
The other problem with asking for feedback post-presentation of course is that by then it is already too late. Far better to do it before the one that counts. The difference between a V1 and V2 is significant. What's more, it is a superb way of managing nerves - one of the biggest causes of stage fright is not knowing whether what you've got to say is any good. So making sure you do a run-through, ideally in front of people whose opinions you value will take the stress out of the main performance.
The question is, how can you help them to give you feedback that is going to take your presentation to the next level?
'So... what do you think?'
'Umm, yeah it was good.'
That's not going to cut it.
Here are three questions you can ask test audience's to take your presentation to the next level.
1. What was your main takeaway?
This question will highlight the strength of your message. Does their answer match up with yours? If not, why not?
2. At what points of the presentation did you switch off/find it hardest to concentrate?
A great question to highlight the sections in your talk where your delivery got lax, your content is boring or both!
3. If you had to give a counterargument to my presentation, what would be your plan of attack?
This will make you aware of any holes/weaknesses in your argument.
The reason why these questions work is because there is no judgement attached to the answers. All the feedback you're getting is objective which means you can act on what they say without taking a confidence knock.
And when you find yourself with no-one to test your talk on - well, I'm working on it - here is a sneak peek of what's to come when my public speaking club, MicDrop launches in Q4 this year (see the bottom of this post on how to join the waitlist).
So there are some questions you can ask your audience and here are some questions you can ask yourself to evaluate the presentations you deliver. (Caveat: This is best done the day after the presentation when the dust has settled)
Was my message clear?
Was my audience connected?
How confident did I feel when delivering it?
If the answer is no to any of those, then it's a sign that you need to work on your message, delivery or your ability to perform in high-pressure environments.
The best public speakers I know crave feedback.
Yesterday, I met up with a client who lights up any stage she presents on. It would be so easy for her to get complacent, yet she still has the desire to take her presentations to the next level. We spent an hour yesterday digging into the first land last minute of a presentation she's got coming up.
Ultimately, getting the right feedback won't just make you a better speaker, it will make you a more confident one too.
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