Presentation Tips – How to give feedback

How do you give feedback? … Carefully.

We all have egos. None of us like to be told we’re bad at things. So how do you go about telling people they are rubbish at something and need to improve?

The reason I’m bothering to write this is that we do this every day, and we think we’re good at it.

But we notice that most people aren’t. In fact some people are just terrible. After delivering a rehearsal of a presentation a while ago the speaker was told that they looked like a “Stormtrooper from EasyJet.”

Now the comment was sort of right. The poor guy looked a bit over-groomed and had waved his arms around in a way that did remind you of the “emergency exits are situated here…” bit in the safety briefing. But what did saying this to him achieve? It destroyed his confidence, made him feel bad, and did nothing to improve his performance.

It is a common truth that people fear delivering presentations to their bosses more than their clients. But sadly they are often right to worry. Senior people often say exactly what they are thinking… Well it’s the truth isn’t it?

What they miss is quite how rude this can sound, and how it doesn’t help them do a good job.

But having people around you who can give you good feedback is incredibly valuable in any workplace.

I started watching other people’s films in the cutting room over 20 years ago. Filmmaking is a collaborative art and there are very few people who can judge their own films really well. You get too close to the material. It has meanings for you that are not there for the viewer. So my job was to watch like a viewer, help make everything clearer and maximise the impact for the audience. A typical example of how those close to the material can miss the obvious was one of the first viewings I ever went to. A film about Goya. Two minutes in Alan Yentob who was viewing the directors first cut, said, “You haven’t said he’s from Spain.” Whoops.

That’s just what we do now in presentations.

I’m sure I’ve offended and upset hundreds of people over the years. As in all things, there is a range of human responses from the grateful and collaborative to those that fight over every word. But films are different to public speaking. A film is a thing. If you are paid to get it right and you don’t think it’s right you have to change it. Even if the director is sitting in a corner sticking pins in a doll that looks a bit like you. My greatest regrets were when I knew I was right, but persuaded otherwise…. You sit at home and your heart sinks as you watch it go out. Why didn’t I change that?

But public speaking is different. It’s a performance so there are two things going on – content and delivery. The content must be right, but it doesn’t have to be perfect. The delivery must also be right, and for that you need confidence.

So what are some simple principles for giving good feedback?

1. Your attitude says “This will be great”

Disappointment and worry are not helpful. Unless you are going to sack someone, you have to make this work. The objective is to get them to feel good. So try this, “This is going to be great.” (It’s not, it’s rubbish, but how will saying that help?)

2. Think hard about what this talk is trying to achieve.

Keep asking yourself, am I getting that message?

3. Find positive things for the speaker to do.

Not criticisms, “You talk too fast” but, “If you slow down it will be clearer.” “I loved the story you told but if you give a little more information it will be clearer.” “I think the content is great but I wasn’t always clear where you were going. If you give some clear signposting “There are three topics, No 1…” that would really help me.”

4. Tell them to do more of the stuff that works.

“When you spoke from the heart it sounded great. Do more of that.”

4. Use the greatest feedback question there is. “What are you trying to say?”

Bizarrely, when you have listened to something confusing and opaque and you ask this question, you nearly always get a clear response. A response so clear that it usually leads to you saying, “That’s great. Just say that.”

Also when you are trying to find how to express something ask yourself the same question. It often leads to short, blunt sentences that really hit home.

5. Keep returning to what is important.

Am I getting the key messages? Is it clear what you want me to do?

Towards the end of a day we will stop giving “notes” and start just being encouraging. No speech is ever perfect but a confident person is convincing. So confidence is the aim.

Sounds easy?

Like all skills, the more you do it, the better you get. Why not be the person in the office who people turn to and say, “Can I do this pitch to you? I want some feedback.”

I’m curious as to why giving feedback is something that people want to know about. Please take a moment and comment below on why you have been looking for advice.

I will be very grateful.