“Communication is what the listener does.” (Peter Drucker)

This is a fundamental principle to set at the core of your presentation development. You can tell them what you like, but what matters is what they do and think after the event. It’s your task to steer that action and thought.

In order to do this, getting hold of honest feedback is essential – and really difficult! You need to know how the audience reacted to various aspects of your presentation so you know what is working, and what you may need to sharpen in content and style next time.

Getting feedback is difficult.

It’s frustrating: the only person who doesn’t see or hear your presentation is you. Yet try asking a colleague who was in the audience what they thought about the presentation and you will almost certainly get something bland. ‘It was pretty good.’ ‘You caught their attention.’ ‘They seemed to like it.’ This gives you no tools to improve.

To get sharper input, you need to be specific with your questions, and prepare your co-workers in advance of your presentation, to give you the feedback you need. Here are three things you can ask them.

1. “Ask for a slap in the face.” (Paul Arden)

In his book ‘Whatever you think, think the opposite’, Paul Arden said that a slap in the face is worth more than a pat on the back. He’s right. Chances are, you know what’s working. Ask trusted sources, and even people you don’t necessarily like, to tell you what is not going well and what didn’t make resonate with the audience.

Your colleagues probably talk with others in the break. Ask them to pass on your slap in the face from others too. The more slaps, the greater the improvement.

2. “I always wanted to be somebody: now I realise I should have been more specific.” (Lily Tomlin)

Ask for feedback on various specific elements of your presentation. How did the opening go? Did they understand my three main points? Was the movie in the middle of the presentation relevant? Did the ending finish with a bang? Did they expect more data?

Try using a follow up questionnaire: Survey Monkey have a sufficient free service for this. The more specific you are with your questions, the more likely you are to get actionable answers.

3. “If you have no critics, you’re likely to have no success.” (Malcolm X)

Keep asking. Keep being specific. Keep thinking and taking it on board, and don’t get down if you hear comments you don’t want to hear. They didn’t understand your funny photo? No problem – just take it out. They thought your personal anecdote didn’t fit the theme? Then change it next time.

And finally…

Nothing’s personal, and no feedback is 100% correct. Remember, you’re the one who had the guts to get up and tell your story. Give all points of view some serious thought, and decide a couple of days after whether you will accept the feedback and act on it, or stick to your own opinion of what’s working. You need to take the audience’s opinion into account, but finally you have to tell your own story – not theirs.

Just that process of thinking it through will secure you an attitude and outcome of continual improvement.