Give encouraging feedback

How can you make your team into excellent presenters?

You could send them to training. That’s good for both basic skills and refining high-level skills. It helps, but to get really good, they’ll need something more.

What’s the main thing participants get out of skills training? Of course, they learn techniques, but if it’s a good programme, they also get lots of personal feedback. Everybody wants to know what they’re doing right, what they’re doing wrong, and how to make their presentations better.

In real life, presenters hardly ever receive clear feedback. Most audiences applaud at the end, no matter how good or bad the presentation was, because it’s expected and considered polite. This is why courses that give feedback are usually more popular – it provides the raw material for personal development.

But feedback should be continuous. If you want your team to excel, you’re going to have to ensure that they continue to get plenty of feedback on their presenting after they return from a training course.

In a course, the trainer and the participants both have the opportunity to give and receive feedback directly. The problem is, this is neither practical nor appropriate in most business settings – for example, when you present to the board of directors, or speak to a customer, you can hardly ask for verbal feedback or give out a form at the end. Feedback forms are standard practice in training settings, but many people don’t fill them out, and if they do, they don’t say anything meaningful.

So how can your people get the feedback they need to develop their presentation skills and their long-term confidence as presenters?

My suggestion is to give feedback yourself and through that, create a culture of feedback within your team. Take the time after presentations to give the presenter comments on their public speaking skills. Don’t wait for a formal development discussion. Do it as soon as possible after the presentation, when it’s still fresh in your minds. It only takes a couple of minutes, but it can have a big effect if you do it well.

Remember that feedback is intended to improve the next presentation, not bring down the presenter. Many presenters are perfectionists and think their presentation was terrible, no matter how good it was. This is especially important to remember if you have team members new to presenting, but it also applies to some experienced presenters as well. Clear feedback from a trusted source helps them see themselves differently.

You should follow some ground rules when giving feedback:

  • Make it private, not public – unless they would like it to be open to others.
  • Give positive feedback first. This shows nervous presenters that they were not the disaster they assume they were and are actually doing something well.
  • Make positive feedback about specific behavior. Don’t generalise and say, “That was awesome!” Do say, “I really liked how you…”
  • Do the same with negative feedback. Don’t say, “That sucked!” Do say, “It could be a bit better if you…”
  • Always be honest. It can be tempting to say only nice things to avoid hurting the presenter’s feelings. Speak the truth, but be optimistic and diplomatic.
  • Give only two or three items of the most important feedback at one time. A long list makes it impossible to focus on anything in the next presentation and tends to overwhelm the recipient.

Presentations can make or break a business. Ensure your people get better at speaking in front of an audience by giving them good quality feedback. They will gain confidence and your business will thrive.