The Real Value of Conference Speaker Feedback

I had a friend call me last week. We spoke at the same conference and we both just got our feedback from those gigs. His feedback was mostly fine, but there were also some pretty hurtful statements people made.

I took a look at mine. To be humble, I rocked my session at the conference! So, I anticipated it would be pretty good. It was, mostly. I had 165 responses that were like this (these are actual verbatim responses):

  • Great storyteller and engages his audience.
  • Great presentation. Lots of good takeaways.
  • The BEST session I attended!!!
  • This was my favorite session of the conference! Tim was awesome! (thanks, mom!)
  • Very meaty information that energized my recruiting battery!
  • Wow! I couldn’t write fast enough!

I could go on, but you get the picture! So, there were 161 of these little nuggets of love and affirmation that I’ll carry around in my pocket for a while! There were also 4 nuggets like this:

  • The session did not meet my needs.
  • Made some bold statements that I considered to be offensive and insensitive.
  • Left the presentation with no takeaways. Content was lacking. (With “NO” takeaways! Really? Not one? Not even, I don’t think short white dudes should wear bow ties! Nothing?!) 
  • He bad mouthed Aerotek Staffing on four different occasions which I found tasteless. (it was only 3 times, FYI!) 

One big thing conferences don’t want you to do is also sell your products or services. 8% of the audience said I was trying to sell to them! I never once mentioned my own company! I talked about my blogging, which I give away for free. I guess I was trying to sell my ideas…

When I dug into my friend’s comments, what I found was he basically got the same kind of stuff. The majority was really, really positive and thankful, but there was a minority of these people that for whatever reason just didn’t like it the presentation. It could have the content. It could have been the style. It’s probably more the commenter and the day they’re having.

This is what happens when we get feedback as adult learners. We ignore all the positive stuff and we solely focus on the negative stuff, even when the negative stuff is just a minority of the overall message.

“Hey, you are a 4.7 out of 5! Awesome! Wow! Also, could you tighten up your project timelines a bit? That would just be a bonus.” Yeah, so, well, I guess I now suck at getting my projects done on time and my boss was soooo pissed!

I know many speakers who refuse to read their conference speaker feedback comments because they’ve figured out this about themselves. They’ll overly focus on the negative, obsess over it, and basically waste hours of their life overmuch to do about nothing. It was an hour we spent together. I hope you liked it, I’m sorry if you didn’t, I’ll try to better next time.

There is value in the feedback and think it basically boils down to this: 

1. Did the majority of people receive my message in a positive way?

2. Did I offend anyone, that in a normal worldly way, should feel offended?

3. If I was going to be speaking on another topic, would most of the audience be interested in hearing me speak on that topic?

I want people to get some value out of hearing me speak. I don’t want anyone to be offended, but I know some people might. I hope that number is extremely low, like one or zero. In the end, I want people to say I like how he presents and I would like to see him speak again if given the chance about another topic.

Conference feedback is about polar extremes. The people who leave comments either loved you or hated you. The person that just felt like it was ‘just fine’, has no desire or passion to leave a comment, and that would be the actual most valuable feedback a speaker could actually get!


10 thoughts on “The Real Value of Conference Speaker Feedback

  1. The content is the meat of the subject. People don’t always appreciate the value of the context of the presentation nor the influence it may have on the group. the people that show up with a WIIFM attitude are not deserving of your presence.
    Good feedback is always appreciated. Useless comments/feedback are just that, useless.
    You are great at what you do, dont change. it is the TIM SACKETT presentation, not the TIM SACKETT ENTERTAINMENT HOUR AND I HOPE YOUR HAPPY WITH MY PERFORMANCE HOUR.
    Keep being the Great presenter that you know you are!

  2. @Steve You know my “Aussie-Brit accent slide” I may change that to a “let’s vote on my attire, yay or nay?” and now we can move onto the important stuff… 😉

  3. @Katrina and @Mary… Frankly, I’d start adding a slide at the end of your preso deck (in fact, I’ll do one too) entitled “My Couture: Just in case you need the proper spelling for your feedback”

    Ladies…sorry for the arseholes who believe their opinions truly matter

  4. After receiving “Ridiculous! From the moment she opened her mouth to the moment she finished, ridiculous.” as feedback and (truly) sobbing for 2 hours, I stopped reading the forms. (Though I also don’t think this should have been sent to me by the conference organiser!)

    I believe this person doesn’t understand the vulnerability it takes to stand in front of a room of your peers and express your opinion. There was nothing here I could grow from & sadly most feedback is like that.

    Like Mary (fab shoes) Faulkner states too, I’ve had “great dress” as a comment way too often and this is equally frustrating but unlikely to change in our lifetimes due to our fixation on appearance.

    What I do instead of reading the feedback is watch myself back and from this I decide what needs improving. It seems to be working as I am still being booked and it sure hurts less than some people’s unhelpful opinions.

  5. I can’t stress enough how different feedback tends to be for female speakers. I can almost guarantee that 100% of female speakers ALSO receive “feedback” on their looks/what they’re wearing/their hair.

    (I mean…not even ONE comment on the bow tie? Really? 😉 )

    • Mary!

      Yeah, many of the negative comments to my female speaking friends come in the form of looks and what they’re wearing. It’s awful!

      I did get comments on the bow tie, but they were all positive!


  6. So it has always been, Tim, at least for my 16 years. There was a time the executive sort of in charge of HR Tech would group all my negative comments in one place for better reference during renewal negotiations. Sweet.

    My all-time favorite in 16 years:

    “Every year, Bill Kutik ruins the conference for me with his so-called sense of humor. Every year.”

    Yup, every year s/he came back to suffer anew.

  7. Loved the post and I have definitely focused on the negatives in the past. Interestingly enough, during a workshop I facilitated last year, I had one negative comment that was repeated back to me and then six months later, I ended up coaching the individual and we get along wonderfully (after she explained why she was disgruntled :-> ). This helped me move forward from focusing on the negative and appreciate your post. Also, love the quote, Steve Levy!

  8. Tim, I think all new speakers should (a) read this and (b) join the new organization called “Speakaholics Anonymous”…because I can’t think of a single known conference speaker who (a) doesn’t fret over the negative comments – heck, we all receive the same 4 neganuggets – and (b) doesn’t ponder how they can do better and not receive negative ratings – no matter how this will never happen.

    While formal specific conference feedback of the positive nature is, well, nice, it’s not what I strive to receive. Personally, it’s the people who come up to me after the preso – I don’t know why, but these often seem to take place in the bathroom sometime after – and want to talk more about what they liked and disliked; not one written sentence on a feedback form but a long conversation replete with emotions and meaning. It’s speaking after with the likes of you, Stacey or Jim Stroud – it’s your speaker styles I attempt to emulate in some way. It’s the people who reach out weeks later and offer, “I’ve been thinking about what you said at…”

    The late Hugh Prather (“Notes of Love and Courage”) wrote “Perfectionism is a slow death. If everything were to turn out just like I would want it to, just like I would plan for it to, then I would never experience anything new; my life would be an endless repetition of stale successes. When I make a mistake I experience something unexpected… When I have listened to my mistakes I have grown.”

    Perhaps your friends needs to hear this…

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