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Critique with Etiquette

April 15, 2015

At some point in every professional’s career they will have the opportunity to critique some element of work. As with any new experience there can be a learning curve to effectively delivering critique. Most often the manner in which that critique is phrased, worded or delivered may impact how it is received.

As a supervisor tasked with providing personnel evaluations to employees, you quickly learn that the manner in which you relay improvement opportunities can impact the overall outcome of the message. Assuming you are focused on assisting the professional in improving their skills, the message may be more successful when delivered in a constructive, coaching atmosphere rather than reprimanding or confrontational.  Similarly, if you’ve had the opportunity to provide 360 feed-backs to a superior, you learn the “art” of relaying any concerns in the most politically correct manner possible. Both of these scenarios are incidents where individual evaluators learn to be cautious with their delivery.

Now consider the feedback process utilized for professional presenters or speakers delivering a presentation.  Professional societies want to ensure programs made available to their constituency are providing the level of information expected. Typically some feedback form is distributed allowing participants to rate the speaker on several characteristics.  In theory, this is good practice.  In reality, it can present with several difficulties.  In our desire to allow for open feedback, we provide for the confidentiality of the person completing the survey. However this authority absent accountability can create an atmosphere where feedback may not always be constructive and can actually border on offensive.

As a presenter and speaker, I know when you have a large audience there will always be individuals in the room who have a different perception. You learn to try to take the comments in stride and adjust as appropriate for future presentations.  It is everyone’s right to have their own observations on the topic. However, as a professional, there are some concepts you might want to consider prior to writing out your critique.

Use your words
I hear new parents telling their children to “use their words” when trying to relay something rather than making hand gestures. As professionals, consider that advice with a small twist.  “Use your words constructively and with proper etiquette”. The critique will be better accepted if the presenter or individual does not feel they are being singled out or attacked. Ask yourself, am I willing to relay the same information to the individual personally. If not, why?

Be specific
If you have concerns about the presentation, especially the accuracy of the topical matter, point out the exact areas of your concern.  Broad statements like “the presenter made things up” really doesn’t provide enough feedback to help correct the issue.  Keep in mind the purpose for your critique is to provide feedback regarding elements that could be improved.  Feedback absent constructive suggestions does not provide the necessary information to allow your organizations to ensure they improve their programs.

Avoid personal references
Here is where accountability comes in.  Prior to submitting your critique, ask yourself if you are willing to put your name and contact information on the form.  If not, why?  If you had strong enough concerns to express them in a critical manner, give the presenter the opportunity to clarify thoughts. If you were required to provide the feedback face to face, would you use the same words?

Put yourself in the presenters place
Often presenters are volunteers sharing knowledge. It is not critical that you have the exact same viewpoint but the person was obviously invited to speak for a reason. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Try to understand their view.

Consider contacting the presenter
Consider sending the presenter a personal note.  Those interactions can be beneficial on many fronts and provide learnings for everyone. The presenter will appreciate the effort and who knows, you may learn something.

These are a few considerations for individuals completing the critique.  However, there are also some elements that organizations could consider to improve the overall critique process.

Provide participants with some brief instructions on completing the survey

Remind participants that information is intended to assist in improving future programs.  Also ensure they understand the importance of providing constructive feedback.

Consider asking for certain demographic information about the reviewer

Any professional who has had the opportunity to present to a large audience will relay that they periodically see comments that are on the opposite spectrum of the majority.    It can be helpful for the presenter to understand basic demographics of the audience such as job level, experience level, industry and potentially geographical location.  This information can be easily collected and could help presenters put the comments into a frame of reference.

Carefully consider the questions placed on the survey

Are questions such as “Did the presentation meet pre-requisites”, or “Was the presenter qualified” relevant to what you wish to collect?   First of all, did the presentation really have pre-requisites listed?  If not, why is the question listed?  Also, is there a purpose for asking participants if they felt the presenter was qualified?    By including a question such as “Was the presenter qualified”, you are asking participants to provide an opinion where the only basis for their evaluation will be on the presenters bio or their perception of the presentation.  Ask yourself; is that what you are looking for?

Another consideration is the scoring scale.  Keep in mind a scale of 1 – 5 may seem reasonable; however, if you provide the “averaged” scores to the presenter, it is difficult to determine the true overall ratings.  As everyone knows, a “1” rating is offset by a “5” rating.  If the presenter does not have the break-out of the number of individuals providing the various rankings, the average can be misrepresented.  Consider providing the statistical analysis to the presenter.

Provide basic guidance for “Comments”

Provide “soft” reminders of the tone of comments and requests for detail behind opinions to enable the presenter to become more effective.  In the end, the evaluation process is to improve the presentation and the offerings.

Both organizations and participants can assist in the improvement process for effective critiques.  We are all trying to reach the same result, a positive and learning experience for professionals.


April 15, 2015
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