Coaching someone on their presentation skills is really tough. Not only is giving diplomatic feedback a skill in itself, but it’s also tricky to know how to give good objective advice that will make a real difference. Here’s a good framework to get results without the tantrums.
But before we get to that. Let’s look at some of the background. The biggest issue with feedback is that people tend to look at it unilaterally. In a presentation skills coaching or training environment, it’s easy to get bogged down in your own objectives – trying to impart your knowledge and style on the people you’re feeding back to.
Being a subject matter expert is essential, but not sufficient. Effective feedback in coaching is a two-way form of communication. The respondent obviously needs to listen to you, but you, as the trainer, need to be equally receptive to their mood, their personality, the environment. Otherwise, you won’t make an impact, you’ll be wasting your time and you risk disrupting the atmosphere of the room.
Falling into this trap is the root cause of many mistakes we typically see:
Being too brutal
Being too nice
Failing to add anything helpful
Telling people what they want to hear
Setting unrealistic expectations
Setting only long-term goals
Failing to justify advice given
Advising purely subjectively
Comparing people to their peers
Comparing them to yourself
Lying or making stuff up
None of the things mentioned above is helpful when it comes to helping someone improve their presentation skills. At best, you’ll keep them happy but won’t help them get better. At worst, you’ll insult and upset them, possibly souring the atmosphere in the room and wasting the day.
The secret to providing effective, diplomatic feedback when providing skills coaching is a simple one – to see things from the other person’s point of view. This isn’t just about imagining ‘what would I think if someone said that to me?’ – it needs to be more than that. Good trainers have empathy. Excellent trainers take a step further and try to understand a person’s motivation, objectives, their fears and concerns. Doing so helps you to approach your feedback in a way that makes it easier to take, and as such, more constructive.
So for example, someone low in confidence won’t benefit from harsh comments, even if they’re a poor presenter. A positive appraisal – emphasising the things they did really well will do them more good. Having said that, people who are low in confidence are often more eager to learn and improve, so they are often more receptive than you might initially imagine. Give them specific, focused feedback with immediate points they can address.
Senior management in a room often seem confident, but many are constantly aware that they need to justify their position and prove their expertise. A little humility often does good – showing them and everyone else that no one is absolutely perfect. But with this comes defensiveness – too harsh criticism will trigger it, and the rest of your critique will fail to make an impact. Some senior members of staff value their own judgement (rightly or wrongly) above that of their peers. A self-appraisal method is particularly effective here – asking them to rate their own performance is often a good starter to make them more receptive to your comments.
People who don’t seem to be taking the session seriously, those who think they know best or who constantly challenge, often act from a position of fear. With people like this, it’s important to prove your value, and show you’re on their side – to try to bring them in to the fold. Flattery works well with people like this – showing that you see their talent – before pulling them up on mistakes. Preaching to an overly-confident presenter doesn’t work. However asking for them to try something a different way and garnering opinion from the audience on how much of an improvement it was (teaching), often gets results.
Remember generally, that everyone feels vulnerable when presenting (especially in front of their peers) – so gentle but firm feedback works best. Don’t pull any punches, but don’t aim for the knockout either.
A good approach
If you can read someone, you can tailor your feedback to make the greatest impact upon them – to help them improve.
A positive-negative-positive (sandwich) approach works best, but it needs to be framed correctly. The first positive needs to encourage them into a responsive, open state of mind. The criticism in the middle needs to be tempered based on their fragility. The final positive is a reassurance – to set them on an optimistic course.
For example – someone who thinks they’ve performed really well. Here the positive element needs to be some kind of ego massage (to not do would wrong foot them). The negative can be pretty brutal and knock them down a few confidence pegs (which will do them good). Finally finishing up with some form of reassurance that there is hope and they can get even better.
For someone who hasn’t done well, but has little confidence, your first task is to boost their confidence – concentrating on all the good elements to make them feel better. Criticism will be easier for them to take if they don’t think they’ve completely messed up. And finally, a positive conclusion to set them on their way optimistic, boosted in confidence and raring to go.
Everyone is different and everyone responds differently to comments. Spending a little while learning about a person – through an ‘icebreaking’ game, or a brief self-introduction really pays dividends. If you can find out what sort of person they are, you can tailor your feedback to them, and in doing so make a greater impact for better results with your coaching.
Remember to sandwich your comments to make the ‘filling’ easier to take, and you shouldn’t go far wrong.
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