A Surprising Speech Evaluation
My friend Gary called me this week. He’s a young, newer speaker with potential to make a big impact.
“Michael, I got a phone call from the meeting planner at the event I spoke at. I couldn’t believe it! She HATED my speech!”
I didn’t expect him to say that.
“What do you mean, Gary? You got those testimonials. And I thought several people told you how much they liked it.”
“They did. That’s why I’m confused!”
After talking further, Gary shared the meeting planner’s feedback. Among her most stinging comments, she said, “I didn’t like the structure of the speech. I didn’t think you tied in with our theme. And, people weren’t motivated by it.”
She then added the harshest blow, “I won’t be hiring you again. And I certainly won’t be recommending you to other organizations.”
My response to Gary was, “Well, my friend, at least she didn’t mince words. She told you how she felt.”
What to Do With Harsh Speech Critiques
What would your reaction be if you received feedback like that?
Would you let it roll off your back?
Or, would it devastate you so much that you wouldn’t want to speak again?
Gary told me, “I’m pretty discouraged by this, Michael. And, I’m confused by the different feedback I got from people at the event. Were they lying to me?”
“I don’t think so, Gary. They were giving you their interpretation of the speech. The problem in this case is that the individual writing the check was the one who didn’t like it.
Gary had learned a critical lesson about paid speaking. It’s nice to get kudos and words of support from the audience, but the person you have to please is the person(s) paying you.
After he vented for a little while longer, I asked him, “What can you learn from this?”
He said, “Umm, you’re not going to make everybody happy. I got confused when we were planning the speech. There were several people telling me what they wanted me to talk about. The closer we got to the event, the more they wanted to add.”
I said, “That’s not uncommon, and it’s not easy to handle when you’re a newer speaker. Because you haven’t been through this before, you want to please as many of the people as you can. Especially when they’re writing you a check.
“Here’s the problem with that. You only have 45 minutes to give your talk, and they’re giving you five, six, seven ideas. That’s not possible if you want to leave the audience with a meaningful message.
How to Maintain Control of Your Speech
“Here’s what to do the next time you’re hired to speak and the planners ask you to include too many ideas:
“Stop the process.
“Explain that if they want to get the most out of the speech, you can’t include every idea. Remind them that it’s important to stick to one central concept the audience can use. Tell them that anything more than that will confuse them. There needs to be consensus about one central idea. Otherwise, they won’t be happy with the speech.
“Remember, Gary, they’ve hired you for your expertise. Take control of the situation. If you’re getting confused or feel that your message is getting off track, tell them. They’ll be grateful that you care enough to get it right.
“I know it’s intimidating when you’re new to this, but, take control of your speech, and you’ll earn their respect. You’ll also develop an excellent reputation.
Another problem that Gary had was that he was writing his speech a few days before he presented it. When you’re being paid to give speeches, this is a huge mistake.
The initial version of your speech should be written by the time you’re hired. This gives you opportunities to test it in front of others, get feedback, make changes, and improve it.
Follow the Example of World Class Speakers
How many times do you think the highest-paid professionals practice?
200 times is not uncommon.
200 times BEFORE they present to a paying audience.
This may be the most important habit of professional speakers. Repeated rehearsal and revision right up to the date of “going live.”
Near the end of our phone call, I reminded Gary about two important facts:
“First, you’re not the first speaker to receive critical feedback after a paid gig. What’s important is that you learn from this. Be brutally honest with yourself. Ask: ‘Where can I improve?’
“Also, ask, “What did I do well?’ Too many people forget this question. If you fail to ask it, you may stop using the best parts of the speech.
“Secondly, the meeting planner’s assessment was her opinion. It is the most important opinion when you’re getting paid, but it is one perspective.
“For your next speaking gig, be crystal clear about the expectations. Keep control of the situation. And don’t be afraid to keep asking questions. Ask until your message is aligned with what they want.
Learn From Other’s Pain
I invite you to learn from Gary’s experience. Know that you will have the occasional negative experience. Wallow in it for a few minutes, or hours, then get to work.
Ask the questions:
“What did I do well?”
“What can I learn from this?”
“How can I be better next time?”
Do this, and you’ll transform your short-term pain into your best long-term education.
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