The Apollo moon shots were off course 90% of the time— and yet they always reached their destination (except Apollo 13). It was continuous feedback, followed by corrective action by the crew that ensured the success of the missions.
In speaking, too, we need feedback. Without it, it’s almost impossible to know if our speech is “on course.”
Some time ago my partner was the keynote speaker at the American Society of Military Comptrollers’ annual convention in Denver. There were over 2,500 people from all around the world in attendance. He was determined to make this an excellent talk.
While developing the speech, he decided to invite feedback from people who knew about speaking. The idea of getting direct critiques from colleagues in a “dress rehearsal” presentation was terrifying. But the alternative of delivering an ordinary talk to such an audience was unacceptable.
That critique session was one of the most powerful learning experiences he’d ever had as a professional speaker.
To gain this advantage for your next major presentation, consider doing a dress rehearsal with feedback. Here are 7 tips:
- The Right People —Invite people who have experience speaking and/or who know about your topic area. They should be people who care about your success and who work well in a group. Exclude the big egos. A good-sized group is eight to ten.
- Timing —Plan your rehearsal two to three weeks before your big talk. This will give you time to make content, visual aid, and delivery changes as necessary.
- Preparation and Rehearsal —Develop the content and visual aids well before the dress rehearsal. Even though you anticipate changes later, give your talk out loud five or six times (with visuals) before the dress rehearsal. Your rehearsal audience should see your talk as a finished product. Include a copy of your speech outline for them to follow along.
- Setting —Book a conference or hotel room for your dress rehearsal. Duplicate as closely as possible the setting for your big talk. Block out at least twice the allotted time of your talk to incorporate feedback.
- Payment—Although you won’t have to pay people for their participation, plan to take everyone to lunch or dinner after the critique session. Remember to have coffee service.
- Frequent Feedback —Build in at least three places for critique during the dress rehearsal session. Logical times might be after the main introduction, during the body of the talk and at the end. Allow at least ten minutes for each discussion period.
- What’s the Payoff for Them? —People who attend your rehearsal session will find it a very stimulating experience in improving their own speaking. They will be glad they gave you their time. As a final gesture of thanks, send them an audio or videotape copy of your talk. They will hear and see how you incorporated their suggestions.
The people who attended his dress rehearsal made invaluable suggestions. Most comments involved content rather than delivery. Someone even spotted a typo on one of the slides. His talk in Denver was far better than it would have been because seven people unselfishly gave of their time on a Saturday morning to give constructive feedback.
So, whether you are preparing a major address or launching a moonshot, be sure to include feedback into the process. You will greatly improve your odds of reaching your destination.
Related Blog Posts: Avoid Slide Misinterpretation and The Technical Presenter's Dilemma: Presenting to Mixed Audiences