I’ve done it, and if you’ve ever got a stack of feedback forms after a presentation, you’ve probably done it.

You go through all the feedback forms ignoring the “Great job” “Learnt a lot” comments and go straight for the form that declares: “That was a load of mumbo jumbo”.

And then you flagellate yourself. You obsess over it. You can not let go of it.

It’s the human brain at work. The #1 job of our brain is to keep us from getting killed. So our brain zeroes in on the one negative comment – because it’s a threat. And threats must be neutralized so that they don’t kill us.

The two types of feedback

There are two types of feedback you can get when you’re presenting:

1. Feedback about your performance as a presenter.
2. Feedback about how your content impacted your audience.

Most of the time you should ignore the first type. But pay close attention to the second.

Why you should ignore (most) feedback about your performance as a presenter

1. It’s subjective

Feedback about your personal performance as a presenter and public speaker is subjective. It says more about the person giving the feedback – their own opinions, triggers and idiosyncrasies – than it does about you.

As Tara Mohr, author of Playing Big says, even Amazon best sellers with thousands of five star reviews have their share of scathing one star reviews. As a presenter, you don’t want to risk listening to the one star reviews. Because that will stop you from ever getting the five star reviews.

Your goal is not to be liked by everyone.

So ignore any personal feedback until it becomes a trend. If several people mention the same issue, then it’s time to listen and consider whether to take action on it.

2. It can turn you into a clone

Listening to feedback from traditional public speaking coaches or people who follow the rules will turn you into a clone of a traditional public speaker. You might not offend anyone, but you won’t draw people to you either.

Kyle Cease is a comedian turned personal development seminar leader. He breaks most of the rules of public speaking – he paces back and forth across the stage, his content follows no recognizable format. If he had listened to traditional feedback, he wouldn’t have developed his own unique and evocative style that enables him to fill a 3,400 seat theater for two days.

If an artist were to listen to all the feedback and try and please everyone they would never create artwork of any significance. Imagine if Kehinda Wiley, the artist who painted Barack Obama, or Amy Sherald, who painted Michelle Obama, had listened to feedback. Would they have developed the style that attracted the Obamas to choose them to paint their portraits?

The feedback that matters

This second type of feedback – how your content impacted your audience – is the feedback that matters. That’s why you’re presenting – to impact your audience.

Think of every presentation as an experiment:

  1. Form a hypothesis as to the best way to get your message across.
  2. Execute.
  3. Collect data on how your message impacted your audience.
  4. Make refinements to your hypothesis according to the data.
  5. Execute once more.

Repeat this process many times and you will eventually have a presentation that gets your message across every time. That’s what matters.


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