Honest, Valuable Feedback

DJ Waldow TweetHonest, valuable feedback. Think about it for a second. When was the last time someone gave you honest feedback, solicited or unsolicited? Was it valuable or just something like, “Great job!”? Did it help you to improve whatever it is you did for the next time? Did it make you are better person? More educated? More aware?

I give presentations all of the time. Webinars, in-person talks (Dude), company lunch & learns. I publicly post most of my presentations on Slideshare (see them all now). I’m constantly self-critiquing. I watch other speaker’s and think about what I like, what I didn’t like, how I’d do it differently if I were on stage, ideas & styles that I’ll borrow, etc. I’m always seeking feedback. If I sucked, I want to know. If I knocked your socks off,  I want to know.

*By the way, I recently polished up my Speaking page, Google Form and all! Want to book me to speak?

The only way you can improve as a speaker is to solicit feedback and improve on the next presentation. However, I’ve been realizing that most of the feedback I get is kinda … blah. “Great job!” or “Well done.” I think most people are afraid to hurt others’ feelings. But again, how can we improve if we don’t know what went wrong? How can we take our speaking to the next level if all we here is “Awesome job!”?

The Answer

Well, maybe not THE answer, but my answer, an answer. The key to getting honest, valuable feedback is by asking for it. Most people will not give unsolicited feedback beyond “Nice job.” You have to ask for feedback. More importantly, if you want to get valuable feedback (much better than just feedback), you have to press further. Consider asking for specific feedback such as, “What’s one thing I can improve?” or “What’s one part of the presentation that wasn’t as clear as I could have been?”

Here’s an example from this morning: I presented a lunch & learn talk remotely over GoToMeeting to my co-workers at Blue Sky Factory. The topic was Twitter and the talk lasted about 45 minutes. When it was done, I had this somewhat empty feeling. Not a lot of questions. Not a lot of feedback – good or bad. So I immediately jumped on IM and asked my co-worker, Chris Penn, what he thought. See the partial transcript below:

Chat Transcript History: DJ and ChrisI’ll be honest. When the phrase “it was okay” appeared on my screen, I cringed a bit. It was a zing, but it was an honest zing. The conversation continued for a few more minutes and Chris gave me some really good, concrete, honest, valuable feedback. The details are irrelevant for the purposes of this blog post, but suffice to say, it’s feedback that I’ll be incorporating into future presentations. Thank you, Chris!

So, my question to you is this: If you want to improve as a speaker or at whatever is important to you in your life at this moment, are you doing what it takes to get better? Are you asking people you trust for honest, valuable feedback? If so, I’d love to hear how that’s working out for you. If not, why not?

Please share your comments below.

DJ Waldow


Dude.  Only the people that are close colleagues and mentors will give you honest feedback. I know I have sucked sometimes when I present and yet I would always get "Great job..." That said...you have consistently ask people that you care about in knowing their opinion and then react with grace and not be defensive.  

Honest feedback is hard to come by these days because I think people are either afraid of damaging ego's or being accused of something or even defend their critique of you.



One suggestion for your consideration would be to enforce some limits on exactly how many times you self-promote in a given piece. This way you have some guidelines you can follow to avoid leaving an unpleasant taste in the mouths of folks not accustomed to so much me, me, me, me, me.

Tim Brechlin
Tim Brechlin

Honest and valuable feedback is one of the most important tools we can use to grow as marketers, communicators ... as people. The challenge, though, is in asking for it, because in many ways, it's a similar challenge as swallowing one's pride and saying "Hey, can you help me?" Some people have a great deal of difficulty with that, while others don't.

The other challenge is knowing who to ask. Obviously, Chris Penn is a go-to guy when it comes to presentations, because he knows a little (or a lot) about seemingly everything. But that doesn't mean that everyone is a good source of input, for two reasons -- one, the "honesty / fear of saying something critical" problem that Matt Pollack cited. The other is asking someone who isn't involved enough to give you the valuable feedback you desperately need.

Example: At a job, one of our email newsletters, targeted at partners/members, was redesigned based on feedback from them -- this happened shortly before I came aboard. The process was done the wrong way, though ... the feedback was solicited from a "development committee," a constituency of core members/stakeholders. Great idea, in theory ... until I came aboard, looked at the reporting (in the awesome Publicaster by the awesome cats at Blue Sky Factory) and saw that only one of the 12 people in that constituency had opened this particular email campaign in the last thirteen months. So rather than identifying the active and engaged readers, and soliciting honest and valuable feedback from them, feedback was asked for from people who weren't engaged in these emails at all. It's like asking a donkey to critique your writing skills -- completely wrong audience.