The Blunt Truth — Flinching in the Face of Feedback

Whether  you’re presenting a humorous talk or a serious talk, you’ll receive audience feedback.  However when delivering a humorous talk the feedback is more blunt.  If you’re giving a motivational speech, you might fool yourself into thinking that people, who sit silently looking at you, are motivated…even if they’re not.  But if your speech is supposed to be funny…and they’re silently looking at you…Houston, we have a problem.  They’re supposed to be laughing. The feedback is obvious.  It’s not that giving a good serious speech is easier.  It’s not.  It’s just that the feedback in the serious or motivational-type talk is often disguised and open to mis-interpretation.

I think, by nature, we humans are not well adapted to feedback.  The natural tendency is to flinch in the face of feedback.  In our daily lives, in our personal relationships, in nearly everything we do, when we receive feedback (dare we call it criticism) we almost automatically become defensive.  It’s no different when we’re on the speaking platform.

As an Ezine writer I receive my own special feedback from readers.  Here are some of the comments I’ve received in recent months in response to my newsletter, blog postings and articles.

1.  I believe your humor tip needed a bit more reality attached to it.

2.  I’m not sure you can go after making someone laugh in such a strategic way.

3.  The newsletter seems more like self-aggrandizement than humor tips.

4.  You’re not funny.

These were comments from four different people.  Each comment could have been received as criticism.  As constructive advice.  As an ignorant opinion.  As a comment from someone having a bad day.  As valuable insight and a gift.

Here’s my take on feedback.  I didn’t flinch the slightest bit or feel badly about any of the comments.  It’s not that I never flinch.  Occasionally, with the right comment, I will.  But I think that 33 years of speaker feedback and contest participation in Toastmasters have conditioned me to receive most feedback in a positive way.

I’ve come to believe that everyone is coming from a good place, trying to do the right thing.  And their truth is based on their reality…as is mine.  Neither of us own the truth.  And their opinion is just as valuable as mine.  Probably more so.  My truth is stuck in my own rut.  Another person’s truth opens the door to fresh thinking and the possibility of growth.  And if not, I can let it go and move on.

The first remark was accompanied by several suggestions to support his comment.  Well written, brilliant ideas.  Right on target.  There’s always another way of looking at any issue.

The second comment was exactly correct.  Getting someone to laugh is not science.  It’s art.  It’s hit and miss…trial and error.  Like learning to hit a golf ball, what we need is internalized skills.  The process of studying the golf swing, while probably necessary, is sometimes a confusion factor when it comes to actually swinging the club.  And so it is with building humor skills.  Each tip is food for growth, points you in the right direction, but is not a magic bullet for instant results.

The third comment.  Self-aggrandizement.  That had never occurred to me.  Someone’s perception is their truth.  Valuable feedback.  Sometimes we receive a dozen positive comments, but isn’t it the one negative remark that burns in our mind.  Get over it.  Choose to grow.  Actually I receive very little feedback on either the Ezine or the Blog.  I’m pleased that the positive comments always exceed the negative ones about ten to one.  And every month for each person who cancels their subscription, ninety-nine don’t.  Yet at the same time I realize that it’s the person with the so-called negative remark who is often doing me a favor.

The fourth comment.  You’re not funny.   Well, I don’t normally try very hard to impress my readers as being funny.  In fact, my writing is probably more dry than it should be.  So he’s probably more right than wrong.  I’m not a humor writer…catch me on the platform.  And even then, my humor might not be your style.  And that’s ok.  Most of my audience likes me.  But all of them never will.

A recent feedback experience was my participation in the Toastmasters division level speech contest.  I was considered by some to be the favorite to win, having won 13 division contests in the past.  I took third place.

I drew speaking position number one.  Not the best slot.  In the opening of my talk I knocked over my easel holding my one visual aid.  And to top it off, the winner had a much better written and delivered speech!  Ah, the frustrations of competition.

Bottom line:  The contest cycle this spring was a terrific learning experience.  I had the opportunity to get feedback on three different speeches (I chose not to repeat the same speech at each level).  I had fun.  Glad I competed.  And now the pressure is off until next year.

So start to condition yourself to accepting feedback.  Learn to solicit feedback.  Make it a habit to thrive on feedback.  Whenever everyone is piling on the praise, keep your radar tuned for that one “negative” comment.  It may be just what you need to move to the next level.