February 9, 2007

Two takes on evaluations



I read two posts within two days of each other on speaker evaluations.

Ross Bowring suggests that written evaluations give speakers valuable feedback, especially when you offer your audience specific and targeted questions. He says, "It makes your audience member feel important as well as letting them know that you care what they think."

Scott Ginsberg thinks it's too easy to dwell on the 10% who have negative comments vs. the 90% who have positive comments. He says, "I used to waste my time with speaker evaluations. (Gosh, what a waste of paper.)"

His final comments on the subject:

"1. Don't try to convert the atheists.
2. Unless the majority says you suck, you probably didn't suck.
3. Screw the 10. Stick with the 90."

I fall somewhere in the middle here. Do I care what the audience thinks? Well, I do want to give them something of value, because what's the point of being there if I don't? So, in that sense, yes. I do care what they think. I want the audience to walk away fired up about public speaking and ready to give it a go - and ready to apply real-life examples that I've given them.

Do I feel the need to change my style, or my speaking philosophy because a few people think what I'm doing is "wrong", or that I'm not following the "rules"? No way! Feedback can be useful, but it can also drag you down into self-doubt and insecurity. And, as Scott mentioned above, even the most overwhelmingly positive audience response can be reduced to the opinion of one negative person. 90/10 rule? How about 99/1 rule?!

If you choose to use evaluations, it's important to distinguish between constructive feedback that you hear over and over, or from many people, and negative feedback from one or two people who just don't like the way you do things. Nothing you do is going to change their minds, so why bother worrying about it?

"Don't let individuality get you down!" I wrote this to myself in my journal my freshman year of college and I still stand by it today (along with some of my other New Year's resolutions that year: "guard against frivolous spending" and "finish what I start.") Good advice all around!

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