Nobody likes criticism, myself included. But if you give presentations frequently, you will be praised AND criticized.
Below is a recent review of one of my online public speaking courses:
This is a poorly done course. I don’t recommend it if you are really looking to learn skills of public speaking. The “teacher” sits the whole time at a fake news anchor desk and recites things not to do rather than showing useful skills to incorporate. It was painful to watch as far as I did, couldn’t finish.
This was accompanied by a review of one out of five stars, the lowest possible rating.
So how did I react?
For starters, I try to put ego aside and see if there are any merits to the criticism, so that I can learn and improve my presentations and online courses. Certainly, I have received many valid criticisms in the past that led me to make major improvements.
First, the critic seems to have a problem with me sitting for the online lecture. I also stand in lectures for most of my online courses and many of my clients sit when giving presentations, so I don’t find this criticism particularly meaningful. Could the course be better if I were speaking on a stage in front of a thousand people? Perhaps, but the economics of that sort of a production don’t work for the online platforms I am on. Additionally, speaking in front of a large audience might be intimidating to students who only have to speak at a weekly office meeting in front of three other people.
Next, the critic takes issue with my “fake news anchor desk.” The video loop I have as my backdrop is, indeed, a fake news anchor desk. The backdrop is something I have given a great deal of thought to over the years and have experimented with. What I have found is that any and every backdrop generates criticism AND that my newsroom backdrop has generated less criticism than any other backdrop I have used. And that’s why I use the newsroom backdrop. Plus, the news backdrop is relevant to my role as a media trainer. By the way, no backdrop or a white backdrop is much harder to light and still generates criticism.
Next, the critic suggests that I “recite things” rather than “showing.” I’m not quite sure of what to make of this. I’m not “reciting” in the sense of speaking out something memorized or reading a TelePrompTer. I am simply talking, giving advice, in the same way I give advice to clients who book a day in-person with me for public speaking training. I am “speaking.” And in a course on public speaking, the only way you can “show” is by speaking.
Next, the critic suggests that I am overly negative and only talk about things not to do, rather than showing useful public speaking skills. The course was made more than a year ago, so I thought I’d better check the curriculum to see if the critic had a point. But when I reviewed the first 10 lectures in the first two major sections of the course, only one of the lectures focused on the negative, the lecture asking people not to do a data dump. Since the #1 problem most speakers have is dumping way too many data points in a speech, I think I would be remiss in not spending at least 10% of my time on such a huge issue. So I don’t find the criticism warranted there.
The next part of the criticism is that I “was painful to watch.” If this person felt I was painful to watch, then he/she is 100% correct–at least for them. After more than 30 years of conducting presentation training and observing high level speakers around the globe, the one thing I am certain of is this: nobody appeals to every audience member. There are audience members who hated watching Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton speak, even though 99% of fair-minded observers would conclude both were/are fantastic speakers.
The point here is you can’t beat yourself up over some people not liking how you look or sound–you can’t please everyone. It simply wouldn’t be productive for me to worry about my gray hair, lack of hair, beady eyes, accent etc appealing to this one critic.
Sometimes, however, even if you don’t agree with criticism, you have to take it seriously if it is part of a trend. If everyone in your audience says you speak too quickly to be understood and you think you are speaking at a normal pace, then you actually have a problem.
In this case, I checked the other reviews for the course. All of the other reviews were glowing and gave five stars.
So am I being defensive?
But I believe a speaker has to defend his/her presentation, or admit there are problems and make corrections.
In this specific instance, however, I have to conclude the criticism wasn’t useful (please note the difference between not useful and not valid).
Does this mean I am perfect or that my course is perfect? No. I could certainly improve some of the production quality, the lighting, and the audio quality. And I need to do an even better job of practicing what I preach by using stories more often to illustrate every key point. But none of those criticisms were made by this critic.
Finally, I asked, is there something good that can come from this specific criticism? My conclusion was yes, and I made an entire lecture on how to handle criticism and added it to the course.
Here is my distilled advice on criticism:
- Listen to or read all criticism carefully.
- Take a deep breath or wait 24 hours before responding.
- Analyze every aspect of the criticism to see if there is something useful there where you can improve.
- See if there is a trend of similar criticism/concerns.
- Make a final judgment: Is the criticism valid and then make specific changes to improve? or Is this person an outlier and the criticism is not valid?
- Thank the person for taking the time to give you feedback.
If you are interested in taking a peak at the presentations/course in question, you can see the first few videos here at no charge.
If you’d like to enroll and take the full course, you can get a $10 pass (course is normally $297) here.