A college student in a recent public speaking class I was teaching hated me. Hated me a lot. Hated me so much, in fact, that throughout class she pouted, looked downward, and refused to participate. Being a few years older than most of the other students in class, it was great that she was back to school and making a go of it. But she still hated me and probably does to this day.

Why does she hate me? (Funny you ask.)

Because I shared feedback about her presentation to the class that she didn’t like. Didn’t agree with. Didn’t appreciate. Didn’t welcome. And in her mind, didn’t sign up for. The feedback in the class offered by the students and me, in her mind, was for the “younger” students and really shouldn’t apply to her. How do I know this? She told me when I addressed her behavior. (You can’t make this stuff up.) 

Feedback (the constructive type) is an important component of a public speaking class. You deliver a presentation, have the audience share their observations both positive and critical, and you deliver a presentation again applying the recommendations. As you practice, you get better, gain more confidence, and apply the learned skills to something important. By the way, life outside of the public speaking classroom works very much the same way. Rinse, repeat.

Of course, when you hear the word feedback, you probably think critical feedback. I do, too. The positive variety is easy — you just accept it and say “thank you.” (Some people actually have a problem accepting positive feedback but that’s a story for another day.)

Here’s the truth. Those that can’t accept feedback (critical, that is) due to ego and esteem issues will face a lot of challenges in life. Whether you’re in a public speaking class, a sales situation, the gym, or any skill related activity, the feedback of others is critical for improvement — given some or all of these guidelines.

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1. You must be open.

The student I mentioned was not open. The last thing in the world she ever wants to hear is critical commentary about anything she does. This could be for a variety of reasons but the bottom line is if you’re not open to what others think at least some of the time, you will have a difficult time learning, working well with others, establishing great relationships, and having fun.

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2. It must be welcomed.

Welcoming the opinions of others is similar to being open. It just comes down to asking for permission. I observed a few things when you delivered your speech. Are you open to the feedback? Simply asking for permission sets a positive tone and prepares someone for what you have to say. This should be a given if you sign up for a class or work with others that know more than you.

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3. Rely on both the positive and negative.

Despite the negative connotation, feedback shouldn’t always be negative or critical. In fact, feedback is best served with positive comments first followed by some of the negatives. If everything you share is negative, others will avoid your advice.

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4. It’s how you say it.

Often it’s not what you say but how you say it. Language counts. Language leads to dialogue. And dialogue leads to relationships. If the relationship is positive, then the impact of your words will be as well. Big difference between ‘you’re not engaging your audience’ and ‘you may want to engage your audience more.’ It’s all in the delivery and the type of relationship established.

l5. Time and place matter.

On the spot may not be the best time to share some or all feedback. Depending on the scenario (in front of someone’s peers or superiors) you may want to share comments when it’s more appropriate. Always consider the reaction of the person receiving feedback. In many cases, positive comments are best delivered in front of others and the more critical stuff in private.

s6. Consider the source.

Harsh reality — we don’t like everyone we meet. It’s just the way life is. This is true in the classroom, boardroom, or lunchroom. There is no rule that says you have to be open to feedback from those you don’t like unless that’s what you signed up for — your teacher, your boss, your coach. Again, it gets back to the relationship. If the relationship isn’t there, the credibility won’t be there either.

s7. Understand that there’s motive.

If someone is sharing their opinions about you because they have an agenda (they’re competing with you, want to see you fail, or have their own esteem issues), you must take this into account. I remember a former boss telling me that when I delivered a presentation that I shared too many stories. Now I make a living by sharing stories with my audience. My boss had her own issues, which I learned about later. The point is to not let someone else’s issues become yours. So again, consider the source.

s8. They’ve been down that road.

Some of the best advice you can get is from those that have already done what you’re looking to do. (The skier that’s on the slope right in front of you.) Who in your network is successful at doing what you want to do? Who is the best speaker? The best consultant? The best sales rep? The best networker? Now, ask yourself: Is it time to contact them for advice?

Ultimately, respect the source of any feedback you receive, always say thank you and let them know that you in fact value their comments. A thank you and a respectful posture goes a long way.