I woke up this morning in a pretty good mood, confident and excited to to tackle the day. I started like I always do (but shouldn’t) reading through my email. I had received an email containing the evaluation results of a recent presentation I had delivered in Indiana where I had volunteered to speak at a conference. I was not happy, and somewhat shocked at what I read. Someone did not like my presentation! I know….it happens…and not everyone is going to like you or what you have to say all the time but one bad comment was enough to throw off my day.
For the next few hours, I thought about replying to the email in an attempt to defend myself. Then I got angry thinking about the not insignificant money I spent to attend this conference (airfare and hotel) thinking of course that I would not return. My last 3 presentations since then have gone great (actually I thought the Indiana presentation did as well) but now I felt uneasiness creeping over me. I had not yet received those evaluations and began to wonder what my future holds if others didn’t like me too. I tell myself — not everyone could get up there and do what I and many other presenters do multiple times per year. This does not help and I still feel like I’ve been knocked down a few pegs.
I am a reluctant speaker. I study presentation skills, I practice (and then practice some more) and I spend hours on the details. I am not someone who just shows up and fees entitled to be up on a stage. I still feel like someone punched me in the stomach before I speak in front of a group. In the hours before a presentation, I consistently ask myself why I do this. But I do. I believe in my message and my goal is that what I have to say will help to save lives, or at least prevent accidents, so I volunteer, I prepare like crazy, I show up early and check out the equipment and speaking space to make sure there are no unknowns that coud screw things up, and then I go on and do my best.
Once I’m going I actually really enjoy myself and the audience is usually laughing and engaged. Audience members talk to me afterwards about the content and follow up with email telling me how much they enjoyted being there and that feels great. But, I know that there was probably a person or two who will have sometrhing negative to say and this is what I focus on. It’s like having a giant plate of delicious pasta in front of you but then you see one stray hair on the side of the plate. All of the other deliciousness is gone and you focus on the one bad thing. That one bad thing takes over your mind and it’s all you can think about. The one bad comment is the hair in my pasta.
A few years ago I decided that I was not going to read the evaluations from my speaking engagements. I know, this goes agaist every self-improvement bit of advice I have ever read about the importance of feedback, but that was my answer. For about a year, I would consciously ignore the feedback that came my way. I have to say I think this helped. Instead of feeling deflated for a week after reading one bad comment, I would continue on my merry way, doing the best work I could without going over and over in my mind what I might have done wrong. I slowly started to look at evaluation summaries again but only at the summaries and not individual comments. This method gave me feedback but didn’t affect my psyche as much.
Somehow during the last year, I began reading each and every comment again and I’m starting to think that was a mistake. Inevitably, there is a person who did not enjoy what I had to say or how I said it. Not knowing the names associated with the post-presentation comments, I do not know if these came from someone who sees thrmselves as a competitor, someone who may be jealous that I was chosen to speak at a conference when they were not, or just someone who was having a very bad day. Of course, this person could genuinely believe that I did a bad job but when 99% of the evaluations are positive, I have to think that there was nothing really wrong with my presentation. But still, that one negative comment gets me. Just like a hair in my pasta.
Linda, thank you for sharing this! I felt the very same way after getting the evaluation summaries from the conference in June. Right after my presentations, people came up and thanked me and had good and helpful things to say. Reading the evaluation summaries, all seemed to be good. Then I got to the individual comments and I did the same thing you did, focused in the negative comments and ruined my next couple of days, to the point of questioning whether I wanted to speak at the conference ever again.
I, too, have now vowed not to read the individual comments and to just stick to the summarized ratings. I think it too easy for people to leave off-hand, negative feedback anonymously without fear of questioning or dialog with the speaker. Additionally, this has also made me consider the feedback I have given speakers in the past on evaluations. I am resolved that in the future and specific comments I leave will be constructive ones (if any).
One of the other things I’m trying to say to myself to combat the negative spiral is to think that even if I have helped just one person in the audience with my presentation, that’s a win! I think I don’t give enough credit to successes, and I’m working on changing that mindset.