How to give feedback

8th November, 2012

I recently spoke at Wired 2012 and I felt it went well (video to follow, when they put it up).

Afterwards, people came up, shook my hand, patted me on the back and told me I did a great job. That felt nice, but it won’t help me to do a better job next time.

Elsewhere in the building, other people gathered in corners and grumbled about all the things I did or got wrong. (I don’t know if this happened. I assume it did. You can’t please everyone.) That didn’t help me to do a better job next time, either.

But someone did something helpful. Bruno Giussani of TED, seeing someone praise me for speaking without slides,  immediately got to the point. “You talked about the Spitfire,” he said, “But this is an international audience. Many people won’t know what you’re talking about. You should have shown just one slide: a photograph of a Spitfire. Then everyone would have understood.”

Next time I give a similar speech, I’ll be showing one slide: a photograph of a Spitfire.

It isn’t easy to get straight to the point and offer a single, focused suggestion for improvement. And the truth is, we rarely seek that kind of feedback. When we ask “what do you think?”, we’re usually looking for those confidence-boosting pats on the back. But giving such feedback – and seeking it out – is hugely important.

(On which topic, Peter Sims has an excellent book, “Little Bets“, which among many excellent topics discusses this kind of focused feedback at Pixar. Buy it for Christmas and enjoy.)

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