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How to use feedback to improve your speaking skills

The process of learning and improving is a continuous journey, especially when it comes to skills such as public speaking. An integral part of this journey is feedback. Constructive criticism, either from ourselves or others, provides valuable insights to help us refine our abilities. So, how can one use feedback to improve their speaking skills? Let’s delve in.

1. Embrace a Growth Mindset

Before you can truly benefit from feedback, you need to adopt a growth mindset. This means understanding that abilities and intelligence can be developed through dedication and effort. When it comes to speaking, it's crucial to be open to feedback, recognising it as a tool for improvement rather than a personal attack.

2. Differentiate Between Types of Feedback

Not all feedback is created equal. There are essentially three types:

  • Positive feedback: Affirms what you're doing well.
  • Constructive feedback: Points out areas for improvement and offers suggestions.
  • Negative feedback: Merely points out flaws without offering solutions.

While it’s easy to embrace positive feedback, focusing on constructive criticism is where true growth happens. Remember, negative feedback without actionable advice might not be as useful. Filter out feedback that doesn’t serve your growth.

3. Request Specific Feedback

After a speech or presentation, approach your peers or mentors and ask for specific feedback. Instead of a general "How did I do?", ask pointed questions like "Was my opening compelling enough?" or "Did the story in the middle resonate with the message?" Such questions invite detailed responses that can provide actionable insights.

4. Record and Review

In the age of smartphones, it's easy to record your presentations. Watching yourself can be uncomfortable, but it offers a perspective that you can't get in the moment. Look for:

  • Body language: Are you appearing confident? Do your gestures align with your message?
  • Vocal variety: Are you monotone, or are you varying your pitch and tone effectively?
  • Pacing: Are you rushing through or taking your time to let your points sink in?

Taking notes on these observations and comparing them with feedback from others can provide a comprehensive view of where improvements are needed.

5. Act on Feedback

Feedback is only as good as the actions that follow it. Once you've gathered feedback:

  • Prioritise: If multiple people are pointing out the same issue, that’s a priority.
  • Set goals: Create specific, measurable goals based on the feedback. Instead of "I want to improve my body language", aim for "I will use hand gestures to emphasise three main points in my next talk."
  • Practice: Like any skill, speaking improves with practice. Apply the feedback, rehearse, and keep refining.

6. Seek a Mentor or Join a Speaking Group

Groups like Toastmasters International or local speaking clubs offer a platform not only to practise but to get regular feedback. A mentor with experience in public speaking can also provide insights, guidance, and regular feedback that's invaluable.

7. Evaluate Feedback Over Time

It's essential to track the feedback you receive over time. By maintaining a feedback journal, you can spot patterns, track your progress, and adjust your goals accordingly. Celebrate your improvements and continually reassess areas that need more attention.

8. Remember, It’s a Journey

Receiving feedback can be emotionally charged. It’s crucial to remember that every speaker, no matter how experienced, has room for improvement. It’s a journey, and each piece of feedback is a stepping stone towards mastering the art of speaking.

Feedback is the compass that directs us towards improvement in our speaking journey. It's the mirror that reflects both our strengths and our areas for growth. When embraced with an open mind and the intent to learn, feedback can be the catalyst that transforms an average speaker into an outstanding orator. So, the next time you take the stage, remember to seek out feedback, reflect on it, and let it guide your path to speaking excellence.

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