Presentations – don’t get ‘feedback’

A friend of mine was recently not chosen to speak at a TEDx conference (to preserve everyone’s blushes I won’t tell you which TEDx they were, because you’ll laugh at them). That’s no big deal as there are more wanna-be speakers for TEDx than could possibly be allowed on the stage. What was a big deal however was the reason why TEDx rejected their presentation idea… (I’ve mentioned TEDx in a controversial post here.)

The feedback was… errr…. errrrrrrr…..

hot air balloon
Hmmmm….. some presentations just have too much hot air! 😉

Look it’s great that the selection committee were looking for evidence and facts in the presentations they allowed on stage – far too many stages are filled with people who can’t tell the difference between their opinion and facts, but this rejection was in the style of if you won’t allow a presentation because they don’t provide evidence that if you release sandbags from a hot air balloon it goes up, you’ve got a bit of a problem.

It’s not a speaker selection problem, it’s a stupidity problem.(Quite apart from everything else the sandbags thing was being used as a metaphor in this presentation so the physics of it isn’t as important as you might think – even though it’s true!)

Presentation feedback

And that got me thinking about feedback.

I've written presentations in the back of a London taxi

And that reminded me of a conversation I had with a taxi drive on the way to the train station recently, after England were beaten in the World Cup. I was only mildly surprised to discover that

  • my taxi driver knew what had gone wrong
  • didn’t understand why the Manger hadn’t done what he would have.

He clearly knew how to manage a national football team. In fact he knew how to do it so well he could do it in his spare time while making a living as a taxi driver.

Astonishing talent, I hope you agree.

Actually it might not be so surprising, given how many people I know who can give me feedback on presentations – and give feedback to the people around them in their company. Astonishingly, they’re not only experts on presentations but they’re so much experts on presentations that they can do it in their spare time whilst being an accountant, planner, computer coder, games designer…

Astonishing talent there, too!

To all you people I have one word to say, but I won’t, just in case it offends google.  😉   Instead I’ll use the word Tosh. (You might be interested in a blog I wrote a while ago about the BadVice I’ve seen given to presenters!) You’re mainly talking tosh. And to make it worse, you don’t know you’re talking tosh. You offer up this opinion in a confident way – so confident that a poor trying-but-novice-presenter might think you actually are an expert. And the reason you offer tosh with such confidence is that you’re too bad at presenting to even know how bad you actually are.

Don’t feel bad though – it’s so common that there’s even a name for it… the Dunning-Kruger syndrome. Put simply, the DK syndrome identifies the phenomenon that there’s more of a negative relationship between confidence and competence than is comfortable.

Yes, I’m looking at you Boris Johnston 😉

Generally unless you’re actually an expert STFU, please!

A message to presenters about the feedback they get

No all feedback is created equal. You’d not take advice about your car from your mate in the pub, would you? Not unless he happened to be a qualified mechanic. The rest of us go to a garage and get the expert opinion of a qualified mechanic.

Nor, I hope, would you take legal advice about selling your house from Tom in the Procurement Team, just because he sold one once, six years ago, before the law changed… Oh, and actually it wasn’t his house but his partner’s… and it was actually an upstairs flat… but it’s okay, they’re all the same aren’t they? These places you live?

So why in heaven’s name would you take (often unsolicited) advice from your peers about your presentations?

What feedback can you trust?

There are only two types, I’m afraid. Council and consequence.

Council about presentations

sketch of a face

If you’re going to be in a Court of Law you take legal council, don’t you?  (Or at least you should!). The difference between feedback/advice and Council is that Council is based upon thousands of hours of training and research – it’s not opinion, it’s expert opinion.

Don’t listen to Petra, the eager probationer from Procurement. Find an expert.

Presentation consequence

Consequence is what your presentation makes happen.

Let’s be clear – you don’t make presentations just to take presentations (do you?). You make presentations because something is supposed to change. People are supposed to do/think/believe something different by the time you’ve finished presentation, right? So here’s the ultimate feedback…

…once you know what that consequence is supposed to be (and if you don’t WTF are you doing making a presentation?!? 😉 ) it’s easy to get feedback. If that consequence happens, you made a good presentation and if it doesn’t you made a bad presentation.

Yes, I know, before you say “But what if…” you’re right: you can made a brilliant presentation but if no one is listening they can’t act on your wisdom … but in that case, how sure are you it was actually a brilliant presentation? It certainly wasn’t a successful one.

Like it or not, the best way to get feedback on your presentation is to compare your idea outcome with the actual one.

And the best way to improve is to ask what you can do next time to make the latter closer to the former.

Finally …

Well no – I’ve not got a finally. Either you’re got it or you’ve not! 🙂

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9 Replies to “Presentations – don’t get ‘feedback’”

  1. I agree. It’s a difficult one though. We all need feedback in order to get better and most people have a huge lack of any feedback at all when it comes to giving presentations.

    I think that the real skill that needs to be developed is how to draw useful information from the type of dodgy feedback you’re describing. For myself, I almost always ignore the proposed solutions given in the advice. Instead I use feedback about a particular aspect of the presentation as a sign that I should look again at that aspect. Maybe I won’t change it but I’ll look at it through the perspective of the feedback and see I can identify what might be going wrong.

    But that’s me and I’m reasonably strong minded and sceptical of random opinion. Unfortunately many people who lack confidence in their abilities and intuition are more likely to be knocked off course by every bit of feedback.

    1. Hi Alex

      Point taken. I didn’t mean we should literally ignore all feedback… just the “well intentioned but rubbish” stuff 😉

      The trick lies is figuring out what’s worth heeding. To that end, I like your idea of not taking the proposed solution at face value – I think the extra mental effort so generated would be a good fillip to examining the feedback.

      Cheers for your thought!

  2. God yes! The number of people who tell my boss his presentations are good when they actually make us embarrassed is shocking!

  3. God yes! The number of people who tell my boss his presentations are good when they actually make us embarrassed is shocking!

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