Taking control of your conference experience-give good feedback

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The great feedback i received at EvangelOz last week really struck a chord with me. As a speaker at conferences one of the things that I hate is the feedback forms.  Not because I don’t welcome feedback, because I can’t remember EVER getting feedback that was actually useful.  Giving me feedback like “Giving out prize [insert prize here] was really lame.” doesn’t help me to give a better presentation next time, it just makes me feel bad that I have a little company that can’t afford to give out $1000 phones every time I do a presentation.

I hear many people whinge and complain about conferences, the speakers and the content so I say to all of you: if you want your experience to be better, give constructive feedback and take control of the experience you want to have.  If you’re only at a $2,500 conference in the hope of winning a $1000 phone, then maybe you should rethink why you’re actually there.

Giving great feedback is really an art, and an art I don’t claim to be expert in.  When I was in school I had a great teacher who helped us all be better at making constructive criticism. He would read someone’s homework or assignment or test submission to the class and everyone’s task was to write down 3 things they liked, and 3 things they think the person could have done better.  At first this sounds really easy but if you’re given something really awesome to listen to it’s hard to find something to pick on and if you’re given something really bad, often it’s hard to find something you like.  His idea was that we can always improve but not to overwhelm people in the number of ways they can do that.  If you just concentrate on the negatives, the person is likely to feel disillusioned and eventually give up and if you only say the positives they will never improve or may feel your feedback is not genuine.

The idea of good and too improve was re-enforced this year when I attended the Imagine Cup finals. Here I wasn’t expecting many things:

  • Team members that I had judged chased me down in the street begging for additional feedback on their solution and presentation. These guys were really craving ways to be better
  • Team members thanked me for listening to their talk and making them feel comfortable. This one really made me think twice. More than one team thanked me for looking interested, nodding and smiling during their talk and expressed their gratitude in how that make them feel a lot less nervous and relaxed.
  • Team members wanted criticism. Some teams seemed really upset that people told them they were great, their solution was great etc. They wanted to know what to do better, what they did wrong, what to concentrate on for next time.

So I challenge you next time you’re giving someone feedback on their talk, job performance etc to give them 3 things you liked and 3 things they can improve. We all learn everyday and learn much faster if helped by others pointing us in the right direction. Be a better audience member and see how over time that improves your experience.

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