When You Need a Critic

People can get into some bad habits because of frequently speaking in the same place with the same audience and in the same context. As a speaker who speaks every Sunday, I am acutely aware of this in my role as pulpit minister. I think this is analogous to speaking to staff or management weekly or monthly meetings with basically the same audience each time. What do you do to keep fresh and avoid the pitfalls that can occur because of the audience’s familiarity with your speaking style and content?

We all recognize our boss’s phrases, mannerisms, and what he or she always stresses. I remember doing a short monologue mimicking some of my boss’s idiosyncrasies when he was promoted out of our college. He was also a good friend, so he enjoyed it as much as the faculty and staff did. I mainly exaggerated some of his mannerisms and included some of his pet phrases and ideas that everyone recognized right away because we were so familiar with his speaking style.

Here is one action step to take that will help you immediately. Choose a critic to give you feedback on a regular basis on your speeches or facilitating such meetings.

My wife and daughter are in my audience each Sunday and have heard me speak hundreds of times. They know they are to give me feedback on grammatical errors, overused expressions and words, repetitive mannerisms, and thoughts that are not clear to them. I respect their opinions and know that they have my best interest in mind. Thus I do not resent but encourage their feedback. Because of this, I believe that my speaking continues to improve.

In recent months, for example, my wife pointed out my frequent references to when I was growing up. She felt that I was getting a bit nostalgic and was explaining too much that had little to do with the point. I was glad to be aware of that. She also mentioned that I often used “in that particular situation,” so I was able to eliminate that from my speaking.

Pick out someone in your work environment who is your supporter or longtime friend, and ask him or her to give you feedback on your frequent presentations. This can be done in a quiet and unobtrusive manner so that it can be easy for the person to talk with you over coffee or in a casual conversation.

In my teaching career over the years I have, on occasion, invited faculty peers who are friends of mine to visit my classes and give me feedback since they know my speaking style and content well. I have gotten helpful comments from them each time they observed me.

Of course, at times I receive unsolicited comments from students at the university or members of my church who feel they are the official grammarians for me. Early in my preaching career, one certain lady would approach me at the end of each service with a list of my errors. Such comments are helpful, but not as comfortable to discuss.

Improve your next presentation to that company sales group, or department staff, or the board by having your own personal coach in the audience. Listen to what he or she says and you will keep moving toward perfecting that next presentation.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at steveboyd111@gmail.com.

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