If you are a professional speaker, you’d like to become one or you are into supporting other speakers, then this blog on giving better feedback is for you. I’m Annik, the founder of Speaker Express, and we run speaker accelerator programme here in London.

One of the things speakers always say at the end of their programme is, “Annik, it was the feedback that made the biggest difference. Getting feedback from someone who is further along the line is so helpful.”

Now, I’m here today with Nick Simmonds. Nick runs a company called “Conscious Communication”, and I want to pick his brain a little bit about feedback and how to use it to move forward.

Nick: Thank you. Giving feedback is one of the easiest and most effective ways of making improvements. However, a lot of feedback is not given in the best way. For example, did you know that our brain takes up only 2% of our total body weight but uses 25% of our energy.

Annik: Oh, wow. I had no idea!

Nick: So, let me explain. Annik, tell me what you see in front of you…

Annik: Like a… a plant pot, for plants?

Nick: A plant pot?

Annik: Yes.

Nick: So, if you’re looking at this, you’ll see either a plant pot, a vase or maybe some faces.

Annik: No…

Nick: Two faces?

Annik: I will stick to my plants!

Nick: You stick to your plant pots? That’s fine but, in truth, what is it really that you consume?

Annik: It’s like a black block of paint on a white piece of paper.

Nick: Exactly. But, you probably heard the phrase, “human beings are meaning machines”. We make meaning far quicker than we can find evidence and that’s what happens with feedback. People make up their minds about something and generally don’t back it up with any evidence.

So, if you’re a speaker, it’s really important that you give the evidence to back up what you’re saying.

Annik: So being really specific about an exact moment is key in giving feedback, rather than just saying something general like “you were passionate”? I hear this a lot, for example people say “When you were talking about your dog and that story, I could feel real passion in what you were saying.”

Nick: Yes. If you start your feedback with evidence instead of just opinion, a number of things will happen. In my brain, if you give me some evidence and I recognise it as truth, it seems to increase the validity of your next statement. If you give me opinion first, we were just into opinion and everyone’s opinions are different.

Annik: That’s a very good point – do you have another example of opinion versus evidence?

Nick: Well, so many times you’re looking for feedback and people simply say, “Yes, it was good.” Now, that’s no help to anyone. If I receive that, it’ll make me feel nice to a point but it doesn’t help me make progress.

So, if somebody says to me, “Nick, when you came to the front, you waited a moment and seemed to centre yourself before you spoke. That gave me confidence that you knew what you were doing.” This is much more helpful as it’s specific and means that that person had a very particular reaction.

Now, somebody else may say, “When you stood at the front and were hesitating, I thought you’d forgotten your lines.” So, it could be the same piece of evidence can give different inferences, different results in different people’s minds, but at least you’ve got a point of evidence to start from.

So, the one thing I wanted to emphasise is that evidence-based feedback is enormously helpful but it’s hard work. It’s more work for our brain to take on than just giving our opinion.

Annik: But, you know whenever you see a speaker and you’re thinking, “Oh, if I was that person and I asked me, this is the feedback I would give.” It also helps you to become a better speaker because if you want to improve as a even faster, just be part of the community that enables you to give feedback. It takes learning to a much deeper level.

Nick: Absolutely.

Annik: Wow, thank you for sharing that. Super.

Now, let’s say… Hmmm, I wanted to ask a very difficult question. Okay, let me ask. Especially when you’re starting out and someone says you’re passionate, someone else says you’re too calm, another person says you don’t make good enough eye contact – you get so much conflicting feedback. Who do you listen to?

Nick: You listen – in my opinion – to the person who gives you evidence. If someone says, “When you did X, that’s when I felt your passion” or when someone else says, “When you did this, I switched off because I was bored.” Then you’ve got something you can really work with.

You mostly get conflicting feedback when it’s vague. You can get conflicting feedback when it’s evidence-based as well though. It’s not perfect.

Annik: Yeah, okay. But being really specific is the best way. Thank you so much – I got it!

Now you can be a better speaker simply by checking us out on SpeakerExpress.co.uk. I’m gonna post Nick’s Conscious Communication website as well. Thank you Nick for sharing your wisdom.