Feedback is one of the most valuable resources we have in developing. Learning how to use it wisely is a skill in itself. Feedback is after all only one person’s opinion and one person’s opinion may not be representative. Accepting that you’ll never please everyone is an important lesson in not driving yourself crazy with worry. Feedback also goes hand in hand with confidence in terms of choosing what you wish to take on board.
Variety is the spice of life
In Toastmasters you get a detailed evaluation from one person. You also get feedback from the audience (often in the form commendation, recommendation, commendation). As I mentioned previously, the positive feedback is important in recognising your strengths as a speaker. This allows us to have confidence in these aspects of speaking and focus on those areas it would make the most impact to develop. The variety of feedback also means you can do a temperature check on how your speech was received and how best to improve. If one person out of 20 didn’t like your content, but 19 did, then you can safely ignore that one. If 15 recommend you improve your vocal variety, that’s worth taking on board.
Choosing how to act
When I first started speaking, one of the biggest pieces of feedback I got was how still I was on stage. Stiff as a board. As my confidence grew, the feedback I got started to change. Lots of people still wanted more body language, but I got feedback from others that the stillness projected calm authority. One person said to me that he felt compelled to listen.
Introverts tend to be less expressive that extroverts. In our facial expressions, gestures and movements. As a speaker, I have learnt how to do better with certain speaking skills which will appeal to the extroverts in my audience. More facial expressions, more emotional stories, more vocal variety. But there are certain points past which I am not prepared to go. This is because that is simply not me. When asked for more “drama” for example, I am not going to create it for no reason.
I’ve been given feedback that I “light up” when I talk about certain subjects. Subjects that I have a lot of expertise in and genuinely care deeply about. When I talk about these subjects, I am animated and passionate in a very natural way. Not over the top, so that I would feel disingenuous, but that animation makes a difference to how you talk is received.
This is one of the biggest learning points for me over the years in public speaking: the value of authenticity. There is no point trying to emulate someone else. One of my best friends is a brilliant speaker and trainer. She is quite different from me in personality and style on stage. I’ve learnt a lot from her, but that doesn’t mean I try to copy her. We train really well together because our styles complement each other. If I tried to do exactly what she does, it wouldn’t come across the same. I look at what she does and use the bits that resonate for me in a way that works for me.
We learn from watching other people, analysing our own experiences and feeding back to ourselves. We learn from direct feedback from others. Choose what feedback to take on board. Choose how to make that feedback work for you. This way you will develop into the best speaker you can be.