Many people believe that assessing feedback when you speak in public begins and ends with an evaluation form. I suggest you use one, by all means. Make your questions open-ended and leave plenty of room for comments.
Be sure to spend some time designing a form that unearths the data you need while keeping your form to one page. After hearing a presentation, audience members are ready to roll. They are in no mood to complete a War and Peace-length questionnaire.
What Should I Ask?
Ask about the program and about you as a speaker. Here are some sample questions to consider. Of course, you will come up with queries appropriate to your situation:
- What benefits did you gain?
- Which passages were most effective, persuasive, or educational?
- Was your speaker effective? Why or why not, and please be as specific as possible?
- Did the speaker have command of the subject material?
- If time had allowed, what else would you like the speaker to have covered?
You learn and improve by reading suggestions from real human beings, not by scanning a bunch of meaningless numerical averages. Forget numbered scoring systems.
Avoid Paint by Numbers Questionnaires
Such forms may make sense for personnel people because they create nice, neat pigeonholes. But they cannot provide you with the critical information you need as a speaker. Even with large crowds, I much prefer narrative feedback. Trust me, I will read those comments no matter the size of the audience. That is how I get better.
There are drawbacks to the evaluation form. For instance, not everyone will fill one out despite your pleading. In addition, it is typically those in the extremes — listeners who either strongly liked or strongly disliked your message and performance — that are motivated to complete them.
Respect your audience’s time when you hand out your evaluation form. They may feel rushed if you distribute it at the very end of your session. They are more concerned with returning to the office, getting home in time for dinner, or moving on to the next meeting.
If you are leading an all-day workshop, you can remedy this by handing out your questionnaire at the end of your last break. When participants return, ask them to take five minutes to complete it. This sends a clear signal that you understand evaluations are an integral part of your talk since you are dedicating time from your program, not their personal time afterward.
How to Generate More Feedback
Compliance is a real issue. It is difficult to prod 100 percent of attendees to fill out the form. But that should be your goal. To get there, you need a strategy that goes beyond a meek request for them to fill out that colored sheet of paper they found on their chairs.
You might designate an assistant (someone from your office or a willing volunteer from the sponsoring organization) to distribute the forms and collect them. The compliance rate also goes up when you assign one or two people to stand at the exits to collect the forms as people leave. Be sure to tell everyone that aides are standing at the door to take their forms as they depart. Instruct your aides not to be shy about asking for completed forms as the audience streams out.
For more thoughts like this, check out the new second edition of Ed’s book, The Truth About Public Speaking: The Three Keys to Great Presentations.