I highly recommend the highly practical book Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun. Whether you speak in front of large groups often, or just small groups occasionally, Berkun, a professional public speaker, offers numerous insights, ideas, and tips to making your public speaking better. From dealing with fear and failure, to how to really make an impactful speech that actually teaches people, Berkun brings his wealth of experience and research to provide a book that can help anyone improve and grow in public speaking.
While I have had ample opportunities to speak and preach throughout my life, I found Berkun’s insight about feedback to be particularly helpful. Berkun explains that most people are going to say that you did a good job after a public speaking engagement. They are nice people. But, for the most part they are not going to tell you what they really think. Other people who are extremely critical may give you negative feedback, but here also lies a pitfall. Negative feedback comes, but in comparison to what? Or, possibly the person is simply being negative and not objective. This means that speakers rarely are given the true truth about their speaking and how they can improve and what they are doing well.
Berkun offers a number of practical ways to get real and constructive feedback. He suggests a number of questions that can draw out actual feedback, such as: “How did my presentation compare to the others?, What one change would have most improved my presentation?, What questions did you expect me to answer that went unanswered?, etc. Furthemore, Berkun suggests that when people give you positive but empty feedback, you should ask, “how could I have made it better?”
Through most of my speaking life, I have been happy to accept the platitudes of others, and simply ignore the opportunities to real seek out genuine feedback. I did this mostly out fear, or sometimes because I didn’t trust anyone to give solid feedback. However, Berkun makes the even more important point. Our speaking is not about us, and our satisfaction, but it is the audience and how they connect with our speaking. If they are not getting what we want to communicate, then we need to improve. Therefore, the feedback of our audience is essential.
I hope to begin to make a more concerted effort to receive honest critical feedback on my speaking moving forward, with the expressed intent of improving my skill in public speaking. I have seen a few other practical steps that can work in this area. For instance, seek out an honest and trusted friend or source who can give you honest and maybe even expert feedback. Once I spoke briefly at a church (in both service) giving a short synopsis (just 2 minutes) of ministry in Spain. It had to be quick, but it had to be impactful. My former high school drama teacher happened to be in the congregation for both services, and being a person who made his living critiquing, teaching, and improving young people’s dramatic performances, he was able to give honest feedback: where I had stumbled in the first service, and where I succeeded in the second. I knew I could trust him, because of our long relationship, his expertise, and our rapport. Another practical way to get good feedback is something I learned from my current director. Every time he speaks, he gives a few people in the audience and evaluation sheet that they can fill out during the talk.
How can you improve your public speaking?